Law News
ACJA Has Brought Innovations To Justice Administration- Nwakaeti

Mr. Lawrence Nwakaeti was called to the Bar in 2000 He is the Nigerian Bar Association NBA Owerri branch chairman. In this interview, he shares his views on law and development legal education and challenges of law practice, among others, with THE NATION

Law and development have always gone together, how do you think our laws will assist us to get out of the current economic recession?

To ensure that the deep dive is not lengthier, we need to be swift, quick and decisive in response to the challenges that confront us as a nation. Laws or legislations are no doubt instruments of help in that direction.

For instance, three Acts of Congress signed by two successive presidents between 2008 and 2010 led to the end of the great recession of 2007-2009 in America.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 kick started the renewed economic growth in the United States. That way, they ensured the financial system does not collapse.

How do you do that?

You do that by injecting cash into troubled banks and money entering key struggling markets. Also, Troubled Assets Relief Programme with a very strong legislative backing was the second legislative step in the United States to end the recession. It has worked for other countries and it can work for us in Nigeria too. Loan tightening and interest rates would be eased by Troubled Assets Relief program. Then the third, Tax Relief, Unemployed Insurance Re-authorisation and Job Creation Act of 2010 strengthened the economic recovery by cutting the payroll tax and take attention to value added tax and continuing extended unemployment insurance benefits.

What is the role of the Federal Government in this arrangement?

The Federal Government also needs to get out of private sector’s way and limit its interference to monitoring and policy formation to protect the common good and ensure there is broad based economic growth. Our decisions need to be targeted, decisive,  not blanket and without focus. Economic growth prospects will be brightened in the true sense of it and not false hope. You will see that job losses will abate quickly through spending activated by the Recovery Act. The passage and very importantly, implementation of Laws that will redirect our attention from over-dependence on crude is also very important.

People have called for the diversification of the Nigerian economy to develop other sources of foreign exchange than oil, how do you think we can achieve this through our laws?

The problem with our country is not inadequacy of laws actually. We have plethora of laws that are either not implemented or were made without definite and decisive focus. We have the Nigerian Export Promotion Council Act made to promote the development and diversification of Nigeria’s export trade, assist in promoting the development of export oriented industries in Nigeria and other related matters and several others to diverse Nigerian economy. So, the question that really begs for answer now is how far we have gone to implement these “beautiful” laws that we have. The actual call now is for us to implement policies pointedly beyond craving for more laws.

How do you feel about the on-going fight against corruption in the Judiciary?

Fight against corruption is in itself a good fight and should be fought just like the biblical “good fight of faith”. However, the on-going fight against corruption in the judiciary with all due respect and sense of responsibility is not with the right approach. The invasion of the houses of Judges sometime last year is well known to all of us. But what has come of it? Nothing. Justice Ademola was discharged and acquitted.

What do you mean by this?

I mean that the DSS has nothing to do with discipline of judges at least for as long as they remain  Judges. If you look at the Part 1 of the third Schedule to the 1999 Constitution, discipline and removal of Judicial Officers is unequivocally vested in the National Judicial Council. That law was made for a purpose and let us allow that purpose to be fulfilled first.

May be it is a matter of coincidence, but many of those judges who were subjects of the DSS raid had one or more cases that has to do with the DSS before them for hearing. I don’t want to pre-empt the ones that are yet to be decided but we are all watching. Fight against corruption wherein you adopt media trial strategy may achieve little or nothing. Fight against corruption is not just perceived or imagined. It should be done properly.

Do good investigations before arrest and not just to arrest so as to attract public praise when at the end of the day, you dash  the hope of the masses. I am an advocate of fight against corruption in the judiciary because no society can go far with a corrupt judicial system. But what I advise is that the right approach should be adopted paying attention to laid down process of law especially as it relates to Judges because they occupy very sensitive positions in the society, a near sacred one if not sacred.

How do you think we can fast track justice administration and make our courts more efficient in justice delivery?

We have to start that by reviewing our procedural laws.

Thank God for the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) of 2015. Section 1 (1) of the Act says, “the purpose of this Act is to ensure that the system of administration of criminal justice in Nigeria promotes efficient management of criminal justice institutions, speedy dispensation of justice…”

It has brought innovations to help fast track justice administration and make our courts more efficient in justice delivery. One of these provisions is section 306 which provides: “An application for stay of proceedings in respect of a criminal matter before the court shall not be entertained”.

The revolutionary approach can also be found in section 396 (4), (5) and (7) which provides that “Where day-to-day trial is impracticable after arraignment, no party shall be entitled to more than five adjournments from arraignment to final judgment; provided always that the interval between each adjournment shall not exceed fourteen days.

“Where it is impracticable to conclude a criminal proceeding after the parties have exhausted their five adjournments each, the interval between one adjournment to another shall not exceed seven days inclusive of weekends.

“Notwithstanding the provision of any other law to the contrary, a Judge of the High Court who has been elevated to the Court of Appeal shall have dispensation to continue to sit as a High Court Judge only for the purpose of concluding any part-heard criminal matter pending before him at the time of his elevation and shall conclude the same within a reasonable time. Provided that this subsection shall not prevent him from assuming duty as a Justice of the Court of Appeal.

Although this is yet only applicable at the federal level, Lagos has several similar provisions in the Administration of Criminal Justice Law of Lagos State (ACJL). The various states should start reviewing the applicable Civil and Criminal Procedural Rules and Laws.

As chairman of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) Owerri branch, what have you done to improve the welfare of lawyers in your branch?

As Chairman of the NBA, Owerri branch, together with all the excos, we decided that the welfare of lawyers at the branch level would not be compromised in any way either in policy making or through any other means. Very importantly, we have tried to ensure that our members partake and benefit from whatever package that is obtainable at the National level.

The Bar Affinity Card is another means of welfare benefit and we encourage our members to get the cards. That is why we always encourage our members to do their part by paying their practicing fees and be up-to-date financially at the branch level too so that they can enjoy all benefits.

Why did you go to court to challenge some policies of Imo State government. What was the judgment of the court?

To answer the first arm of your question, I will simply say that we went to court to fight the course of Justice and stand firmly against glaring injustice especially for those who appeared defenceless in the society. And may I add that we will continue to fight against any appearance of injustice. More specifically however, we went to court to challenge an ill motivated policy of the state government to short change pensioners as per their pension entitlements by mischievously asking them to fill a form of undertaking on oath waiving their pensions.

We stood against that and went to court. Another issue we went to court over was the wrongful dissolution and appointment of new members of the Imo State Judicial Service Commission. To answer the second arm of your question, the Judgment of the court was delivered in our favour and rightly too. The court ordered the state government to pay the pensioners their full entitlements and the mischievous form given to the pensioners was held to be a nullity.

The court also held that the members of the Judicial Service Commission as recently constituted by the governor was illegal and declared their appointment a nullity and perpetually restrained those illegally appointed members from being reappointed. The judgment is fair to all concerned for the course of justice.

The EBF has elected officers to run its affairs for the next two years, what are your expectations from EBF’s new governing council?

I expect the newly elected officers of the EBF led by my good friend Arthur Elvis Chukwu, to build on the gains and successes of the last administration. We expect them to ensure continued unity of the Forum. The forum has been a pace setter for the other regional fora and we expect to continue that way. We are very ready to contribute in any way possible to achieve the goals of this regional professional body.

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