No preliminaries. Let’s get down to brass tacks.
Recent decisions emanating from the court of Justice Okon Abang of the Federal High Court, Abuja has provided a catalyst to all sorts of reactions; some loaded with dripping ignorance and others laced with genuine concern.
Some who have never understood how the judiciary works has used the recent judgments of Justice Okon Abang and the conflicting court decisions concerning the PDP convention to spew their ill-informed hate of the judiciary. Others have concluded that the two different decisions emanating from two judges of the same court, though different divisions, is a sign of lack of intelligence of the judges.
The truth is that the judiciary or lawyers world over have set up themselves to incur the hate of others because of their claim of being learned. See what my friend Victor Kingsley said in his short article entitled “THE JUDICIARY: LIKE OKON ABANG, LIKE MBU”
”From when I became able to grasp the concept of life, the law and humanity, I have been made to understand that “The court is the last resort of the common man”. Events after event keep unfolding and slowly, but surely, that saying not only became an anathema to my ears, a seed of discord was sown in my heart against the Judiciary, who would never cease to rub it in our faces and noses that they are the fountain of all wisdom. They have forced us times without numbers to accept some atrocious rulings on the belief that “The Judge is always right”.
Though a very law abiding citizen, I grew with this hatred for those who run the rule in that all knowing, all wise profession. A corrupt man is free to roam and continue to perpetrate his trade because he has the money to hire a very good attorney; same way an innocent man is sent to either jail or to the gallows because he does not have the money to get a lawyer.”
I can’t help him with the hate. But I will try to help him with the facts. Is two different decisions from two judges of same court a proof or even a sign of corruption or incompetence? The answer is no. this is by no means something admirable but it is also not a sign of incompetence or corruption.
Infact, it is actually a sign of the independent mindset of the judges. I will show you how the politicians are exploiting this independence for their own gain and to the embarrassment of the judiciary later on but first let me show you how two different decisions emanating from two different judges is a good thing even if they are from the same court and presented with similar or identical facts.
Juges are not robots. They are expected to bring their independent understanding and appreciation of the facts and law to bear in the adjudication of any given case. This independence is regulated by the doctrine of stare decise which mandates all judges to follow the principles and reach the same decisions reached by superior courts in any case before them which has similar facts.
Even in courts like the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court where judges sit in teams of 3, 5 and 7 at the same time and are presented with the same facts and law, they still reach independent and at times different decisions. That is why we have majority decision and minority or dissent decision in these courts.
In the Supreme Court case of Atiku Abubakar vs Umaru Musa Yar’adua & Ors, two different appeals were consolidated for determination; in determining the first issue, 6 of the Justices agreed while 1 dissented or disagreed. For the second issue, the same team of 7 Justices, sitting the same time and the same place, who just decided the first issue 6-1, voted differently: 4 agreed and 3 disagreed or dissented. As in many cases decided by the Supreme Court, this portrays the way Judges decide issues before them, independently without the influence of anyone, even a fellow judge when they are sitting as a team or panel.
So two judges can reach different decisions even when presented with the same facts. This is not a sign of corruption or incompetence. It is actually a pointer to the beauty of the independent mindset of judges. So, even if Justice Abang and his brother Justice in Port Harcourt were presented with the same facts, in the same place and at the same time; nothing would have been morally or legally wrong if they reach different decisions from their evaluation of the same facts.
However, Justice Okon Abang and his brother Justice in the Port Harcourt division didn’t even have the benefit of being presented with the same facts, at the same time and at the same place. And when facts are presented to two different judges at different places and times, the facts can no longer be identical, the best it will be is similar. And similar facts can be presented before different judges; a judge cannot look beyond the facts presented before him to adjudicate.
No law or rule mandates a judge sitting in Abuja to take cognizance of the facts not before him or facts before another judge of coordinate jurisdiction, equal power or the same court in another division. The decision of a fellow High Court or Federal High Court Judge cannot bind another judge in the same court. This is the beauty of the adjudication system that the politicians have found a way to manipulate to the embarrassment of the judiciary and the consternation of all.
It’s time for the judiciary to stand up and outsmart these politicians. Since the hunter has learnt to shoot without missing, Aneke the bird must learn to fly without perching. Similar but not identical facts can be heard by different judges but these politicians are manipulating the system to get conflicting judgments or orders that bothers on the same outcome. An automated system should be put in place that will identify cases with identical or similar facts, similar or identical parties, which will certainly produce the same outcome or impinge on the same subject matter.
This is the 21st Century and this should not be difficult. The Chief Registrar should develop a system where all matters, especially, political matters that bothers on the same subject matter should be consolidated and heard by one judge in one division. The system should be able to dictate when politicians have embarked on a forum shopping, looking for a judge that will give them a favourable decision by skewing the facts in their favour. Politicians do politics, the bench do justice. The politicians should be checked before they politicize the adjudication process.
Justice must not only be done in all instances but justice must be seen to have been done. The two different decisions emanating from the Abuja and Port Harcourt divisions of the Federal High, and touching on the same PDP convention, is not a sign of injustice but justice cannot be said to be seen to have been done. The learned man who is embarrassed and the lay man who is confused and disappointed with the judiciary cannot be blamed. Though I submit that anyone who cast aspersions fueled by ignorance of how the judiciary works because of this should take responsibility for his ignorance and move to cure same. I hope this piece will be a step.
The judiciary will remain the most maligned institution in any democracy. Parties who lost in court will always claim justice has not been done, while those who come out victorious will celebrate that justice has been done. This is the attitude of the masses all over the world. So the truth is that, most of the hatred and dislike for the judiciary is simply because a certain judge or judgment didn’t go the way a particular person wanted it to.
Then who is really corrupt? Is it you that want all judgments to go according to your whims and caprices or the judge who dares to pronounce judgments that sometimes, go contrary to your expectation? Every institution, including the family unit, has it bad eggs. So this is not a blanket defense of the judiciary. Every effort should be made to fish out bad eggs in the judiciary and deal with them accordingly.
But to present conflicting decisions as a sign of corruption and lack of intelligence is truly an indicator of crass ignorance. A time will never come when everybody will agree with a court decision. But the court must not always think the way you think or speak the way you speak to make them right, you are not that right yourself and the world doesn’t revolve around you.
Victor ended his piece by saying “Well, God is our Highest Chief Judge. He is bigger than any Chief Judge in the whole wide world. He is the all-knowing. Whenever HE says yes, stays yes and no, no.” He sounded as if he will never challenge God’s final decision or nobody will… we don’t even need to wait until we come before him to find out.
“When the Judgment Day comes, many will say to me, “Lord, Lord! In your name we spoke God’s message, by your name we drove out many demons and performed many miracles!”
Then I will say to them, “I never knew you. Get away from m e, you wicked people!”
So you see, God is perfect and final but people will still argue with his judgment if it goes contrary to what they were expecting. That will not make God corrupt or foolish. Judges are final not because they are perfect, they are perfect because they are final. And justice is not done only when it suits you or makes you happy. Justice can also make you sad or cry.
First Baba Isa (FBI) is a Legal Practitioner and writes from Abuja.
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