The Port Harcourt Branch of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) yesterday rejected the amendment to the state High Court Law by the House of Assembly and the Governor, Chibuike Amaechi.
Addressing journalists yesterday evening at the state Ministry of Justice after several hours of emergency meeting, Chairman of the association, Dennis Okwakpan, stated that they would challenge amendment immediately the court resumes.
Okwakpan added that the law, if allowed to operate, would humiliate the judges, who would be taking instructions from their junior, and moreover, who is not a judicial officer.
He said the association had been interfacing with the National Judicial Council (NJC) and the state government on how to resolve the lingering crisis in the judiciary.
He said, “We discussed a couple of things and at the end of that meeting, a few decisions were taken. The whole idea is how the state can move further and get out of this logjam in the crisis in the judiciary. The most notable decision that we took was basically to get approval from our members at this extra-ordinary general meeting to continue to engage all the authorities, the NJC and the Rivers State government with the view of resolving the issue of appointing a substantive chief judge for the state.
“We also reviewed the Rivers State House of Assembly decision to amend the High Court Law to vest power on the Chief Registrar of the High Court to assume or carry out administrative duties and a few other things.
“We agreed as an association, as a body, to condemn the work. It is a law as it is, but we have decided to condemn it because in our estimation, it would not be practical to enforce it; and it would ultimately humiliate the judges; because as it would ultimately be in the suit we are going to file, the magistrate who by this amendment has been vested with this power to assign cases, is not a judicial officer and is junior in rank to the judges.
“If you are to go by the letter of that law, the magistrate would now be assigning cases to a judge. What it means is that, he is going to assign cases; he can actually exercise some kind of supervisory role on judges because he can assign cases, and should also withdraw cases.
“So, we resolved that it cannot be practicable in any way, and it would expose judges to humiliation. So, that is why we have taken a decision to condemn that law, and will ultimately challenge it when the court resumes. It is a notable decision we took.”
The lawyers voted massively against the amendment of the state High Court Law and said they were in support of the decision of the NJC to appoint the most senior judges in the state High Court and the Customary Court of appeal to assign cases to ease the logjam created by the crisis in the appointment of a substantive leadership of the state judiciary.