Nigeria’s new Judicial policy gives NJC power to suspend Judges, introduces ‘veil of secrecy’

The nation’s Judiciary is under intense scrutiny at the moment as allegations of corruption swirl among its ranks.

In the midst of it all, the new National Judicial Policy launched by the National Judicial Council on Monday now empowers it to place a Judge under investigation on interim suspension.

This is contrary to the position separately expressed by the NJC and its Chairman, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Mahmud Mohammed, since the Nigerian Bar Association made the call for the suspension of some judges recently arrested by the Department of State Service on allegations of corruption.

The National Judicial Policy which was prepared by the NJC in April 2016 but only unveiled by the NJC on Monday, covers issues such as judicial appointment policy, judicial discipline policy, judicial code of conduct policy and judicial education and training policy.

Other issues covered by the NJP included, judicial performance policy, case flow management policy, judicial administration and court management policy and transparency and anti-corruption policy, among others.

The NJP deals with Judicial Discipline Policy under section 2.2 where it makes provisions for the Judicial Discipline Regulations.

It states in its section 2.2.3 that the Judicial Discipline Regulations may specify among other 16 items, the procedure of investigation of a judge, powers of council to order a review and composition of review body, and powers of interim suspension by NJC.

The NJP states in part, “The National Judicial Policy ascribes much premium to judicial accountability and ethical conduct in judicial office.
“The National Judicial Regulations may specify, among other things:
“Who may make a complaint;
“Time within which a complaint could be made from date of the event or matter complained of;
“Registration procedure of the complaint;
“Form of a complaint;
“Reference of complaints for investigation and composition of investigating entity;
“Terms of reference of such investigating entity or committee;
“Procedure of investigation by investigative entity;
“Form and contents of the investigation report and its disclosure to the subject of the investigation;
“Proposed disciplinary action, notification and decision; nature of disciplinary powers that council may exercise;
“Powers of Council to order review and composition of review body.
“Circumstances in which council may order a review;
“Powers and procedure of the review body; and
“Powers of interim suspension by Council.”

But the NJC had said acting in line with NBA’s suggestion by suspending the arrested judges without receiving petitions against them and probing the petitions, would violate section 158 of the Constitution.

The CJN also set up the Judicial Ethics Committee charged with the duties of
“Preparations of amendments to the Judicial Code of Conduct as the need arises.
“Undertake the responsibility to elaborate the provisions of the Code, explain and remind judicial officers of the provisions of th Code and, generally and do all such things necessary to ensure a continuous high standard of judicial accountability and probity.
“Monitor and report on laxity by judicial officers in observance of ethical standards in the performance of judicial duties.”
The committee is headed by Kutigi, who was the Chairman ‎of the last National Conference held in 2014.
All new additions to the policy are getting attention but the most controversial is the third which injects a level of privacy for Judicial officers.

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