- Category: POLITICS
- Published on Tuesday, 07 August 2012 22:33
- Written by Admin
Public Statement - Lagos Chief Judge Sends Wrong Signals by Participating in Ceremony to Witness Governor’s Assent to Bill - On Thursday, August 2, 2012 the Chief Judge of the Lagos State High Court, Hon. Justice Ayoola Philips was amongst other dignitaries in attendance at the Banquet Hall of Lagos House, Ikeja to witness the
assenting of the new Lagos State Traffic Law by the Lagos Governor. As the head of an arm of government that may ultimately decide questions about the legality or constitutionality of the said law, the presence of the CJ at that function questions the fundamental principles of separation of powers and the independence of the Judiciary, especially if viewed in the light of Nigerians’ longstanding concern over the erosion of judicial independence and integrity in Nigeria.
The Lagos CJ’s presence at the ceremony is more than just an innocuous gracing of the entry into force of an important legislation; we are concerned that it will negatively reflect on the Judiciary’s stature as an unbiased, independent arm of government not beholden to any institution or arm of government or identified with any particular interests, policy positions of government. A Chief Judge’s words, actions, omissions, conduct or body language should never be subject to an interpretation that the Judiciary has taken sides on the merits or demerits of particular interventions or policies taken by government, particularly where these policies are potentially controversial and may be challenged in court. We fear that there may be many who will interpret the Chief Judge’s participation in that event in this way.
The CJ’s presence at the ceremony could likely give rise to public perceptions that the Lagos Judiciary will be unable to independently adjudge any disputes arising from the enforcement of the aforesaid law if the question of the legality or constitutionality of the new traffic law comes before Lagos Judges for interpretation. Her conduct will be interpreted in the same way as if she showed up at a Media Conference convened to denounce or oppose the passage of the said law.
Judges have a duty themselves to uphold, with scrupulous zeal, their independence. As the saying goes, the perception of judicial independence is just as important as the actuality of it. There are good inspirational precedents in this regard. We remember an example set long ago by an incumbent of the office of Lagos Chief Judge, Hon. Justice JIC Taylor - who declined conducting the then Head of State, Gen. Yakubu Gowon around the High Court of Lagos premises when the latter visited out of concern that that public perception of judicial independence should not be compromised.
Joseph Otteh Chinelo Chinweze (Mrs.)
Executive Director Legal Programme Attorney
Access to Justice Access to Justice