Under the European Union (EU) funded project “Support to the Justice Sector in Nigeria,” the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in collaboration with the Nigerian Bar Association, Access to Justice, and the National Judicial Council facilitated a Judicial Reform Conference in Abuja from 7 to 9 July 2014. Over 200 participants representing the Bar and Bench, civil society organizations, the media, academics, and the international community participated in the conference.
In a welcome address to participants, Mariam Sissoko, UNODC Country Representative, said that the ability to monitor and evaluate the performance of the judiciary is an important component of judicial reform. “Public confidence in a free, fair and impartial judiciary is enhanced when the public is not only aware of the process by which judges and magistrates are selected, but also when they are assured that there is oversight in the manner in which the judiciary dispenses justice.”
Conference presenters and participants highlighted the need for an independent judiciary as a pre-requisite to enhancing the performance of the justice sector in Nigeria. In this regard, it was emphasized that the adjudication of cases must occur within an environment free of interference from the other branches of government, and from private or partisan interests.
In a keynote address, Hon. Justice Mogoeng Thomas Mogoeng, Chief Justice of the Constitutional Court of South Africa, said, “there seems to be a reluctance to recognize the judiciary as an arm of the State that ought to enjoy independence. The judiciary needs that independence so as to be able speak out on matters that affect the nation which have not been properly handled.” He added: “The judiciary is the third arm of the State and it must be made to look like the third arm of the state in all respects, it must never be made to look like an appendage of the Executive.” He encouraged the Bar and Bench in Nigeria to join hands in advocating for a fully independent judiciary with its own budget and capable of controlling its own affairs without interference from the Executive.
In her address, Hon. Justice Mariam Aloma-Mukhtar, Chief Justice of Nigeria, encouraged the Bar and Bench to work together in ensuring judicial independence. “The problems in the judiciary cannot be solved without the collaboration of the Bar and Bench. We should try as much as possible to stand against interference from the other two arms of government. Once the judiciary starts making the other two arms know that there is a separation of powers and the judiciary is the third arm of government, we should be able to get to where we’re going in the long run,” she said.
In a communique issued at the end of the conference, participants recommended a review of the guidelines for the recruitment of judges to encourage a more transparent, competitive and merit based appointment system; involvement of all stakeholders in the performance management and evaluation of judges; and the application of information technology by the Bar and the Bench to enhance the management of cases