Justice: Loss of public confidence —Another look at the role of lawyers and judges

“The general discussion of justice is divided into the realm of societal justice as found in philosophy, theology and religion, and procedural justice as found in the study and application of the law….The concept of justice differs in every culture”.


THE judiciary in Nigeria and the administration of justice as a whole have recently come under intense searchlight precipitated by the invasion of the homes of some judges by officials of the State Security Services. Prior to this there had been widespread discontentment about the manner Judges and Lawyers are perceived to have contributed to the challenges encountered in the judicial sector such as undue delay in the prosecution of corruption cases. In this regard, instances of the inability of the prosecution to either expeditiously conclude corruption cases or secure convictions have been cited as evidence of a collusion between the judiciary and lawyers to frustrate the efforts of law enforcement agencies to bring to book those who have corruptly enriched themselves with public funds. It was due to this very fact that I decided some months back to devote a series of articles to the issue. I discussed several factors including the erosion of societal values, training of lawyers, the process for appointment of judges and the remuneration of judicial officers. Looking back on the events of the previous weeks I realise that it is important to revisit these matters again.

Without a doubt, there is indeed cause to worry over the slow pace of prosecution of not just corruption cases but indeed virtually all cases in Nigerian courts. Experience has shown that cases drag on for years without any meaningful product in terms of verdicts of acquittal or conviction of the accused person. In one particular instance which is often referred to as a source of embarrassment to the country, a former governor was acquitted of corruption charges by a court in Nigeria only to be convicted of charges brought on the same facts as those filed in Nigeria, by a court in the United Kingdom. In yet another instance, an accused person who had been convicted of embezzlement of billions of Naira in pension funds was sentenced to two year imprisonment with an option of fine of N250,000. Furthermore, a former governor was also convicted and given an option of fine of M3million while his co-accused was sentenced to a long term of imprisonment. According to a report titled ‘Justice of impunity’ prepared by Prof Bolaji Owansanoye, the amount embezzled and in respect of which charges are pending amount to about N1.3trillion. The cases are said to include that of 15 former governors, 4 former ministers, 5 former law makers and other made up of former federal and state public servants.

Without a doubt these indeed are worrying cases. But is the judiciary alone to blame? Do lawyers also have a share of the blame and to what extent? Is there not a need to also look at other factors including the lack of political will as pointed out by some including the Chief Justice of the Federation? Let me state straightway that the Judiciary and Lawyers, although not entirely unworthy of blame have for far too long been unfairly isolated as the sole cause of the delay in the prosecution of cases. As I will discuss in the coming editions, there is just so little a Judge or indeed a lawyer can do in certain circumstances.



It is difficult if not impossible to attempt a definition of the term “Justice” within the limited space offered by this article. This is because historically the concept of justice has been subjected to so much debate and analysis and is now generally accepted to be dependent on a lot of factors such as culture with the effect that one can hardly offer a definition of the concept that will be acceptable to all. This difficulty is well captured by Wikipedia which offers the following in respect of the concept “Justice”:

“Justice, is a concept whose content several times has been subject to a philosophical as well as legal treatment. There is no universal definition of the term. In its most basic form, “justice” is the systematized administration of punishment and reward. Further to this, one can say that justice excludes randomness. The concept of justice is based on numerous fields, and many differing viewpoints and perspectives including the concepts of moral correctness based on law, equity, ethics, rationality, religion, and fairness. Often, the general discussion of justice is divided into the realm of societal justice as found in philosophy, theology and religion, and procedural justice as found in the study and application of the law….The concept of justice differs in every culture”

For the purpose of this discussion I feel that it is sufficient to state that what the average Nigerian means, when he refers to injustice or the slow pace of justice delivery in Nigerian Courts is that the Courts have failed to act in a manner required of them to meet the expectations of litigants who have taken their matters to court for adjudication particularly in some cases where the very existence of those litigants depend on a speedy determination of the cases. With respect to criminal matters, I feel that the sense of injustice is closely linked to a perceived unevenness in the application and interpretation of the law between the rich and the poor, between the haves and the haves not and between the government and the governed! But are lawyers and judges solely to be blamed? I think not!

Firstly, the profession of the law is one that is governed by certain rules and regulations. The profession is one that has developed in the course of the centuries certain norms which bind all lawyers and judges. I have been a lawyer for over fifty years and I believe this fact eminently qualifies me to draw from my personal experiences in making this point. A lawyer who accepts a brief of a client can only execute that brief within the facts supplied to him by that client as lawyers do not manufacture facts for their clients while judges cannot go outside the evidence before it. In stating this I do not wish to be mistaken as saying that instances do not abound in which lawyers have gone beyond that which is legally permissible and have indeed cast upon themselves the inglorious task of manufacturing facts which they perceive as best suited to the preservation of the interest of their clients. However, I am confident that the vast majority of lawyers remain guided by the rules of the profession.


To be continued…