The Governor of Bayelsa State, Douye Diri, has urged legal practitioners in the country to refrain from making condemnatory statements on court judgements in the media, stating that it puts the integrity of the Nigerian judicial system into serious question.
Diri, who spoke at a ceremonial court session in Yenagoa to mark the commencement of the 2023-2024 Legal Year in the state, on Friday, stated that the practice among lawyers to speak to the press after court judgements, often condemning such rulings, undermines the integrity of the Nigerian judiciary.
Represented by his deputy, Lawrence Ewhrudjakpo, he stressed that there was no need for lawyers and their clients to make unguarded and disparaging comments about unfavorable court rulings as they have opportunity for appeal up to the supreme court.
Diri therefore called on legal practitioners to stop what he called “the practice of law in the media”, noting that whatever they use to qualify a court judgement, that is what the public would call it.
He stressed that there was no need for lawyers and their clients to make unguarded and disparaging comments about unfavorable court rulings as they have opportunity for appeal up to the supreme court.
Diri, however, called on members of the Bench to be above board in their judgements to protect the image of the judiciary as the hope of the common man.
Describing the judiciary as the last hope of the common man, the governor said everything necessary should be put in place to improve the dispensation of justice in the Nigerian justice system.
He said, “The first people who give the impression that justice has been miscarried are lawyers. The lawyers are the first to come out of the court to address the press condemning court judgements.
“Whatever you call the judgement that comes out of the court, that is exactly what the public ends up calling it. I really want us to caution ourselves. Let us stop the media practice of law in our country to safeguard the integrity of the justice system.
“We need, as a people and as a country, to see what we can do to improve on what we dispense out. And to that extent, I am talking to the judges and judicial officers that make up the bench.”
In her legal year address, the Chief Judge of Bayelsa State, Justice Matilda Ayemieye, noted that the start of a new legal year affords critical stakeholders in the justice sector to take stock of the past year, and make projections into the new year.
Ayemieye outlined major achievements in the previous legal year to include the upgrade of High Court complex named after Justice Koripamo Ungbuku; completion of new Judges Quarters; introduction of Court Recording System, and e-filing of cases.
She disclosed that at the commencement of the past year, total number of cases stood at 2,577; whereas, fresh cases filed within the year under review amounted to 2,834.
Ayemieye also informed that 2,575 cases were successfully disposed off by the courts, while the number of pending cases brought forward to the new legal year stood at 2,850.
On challenges confronting the state judiciary, the chief judge highlighted manpower deficits, inadequate funding and increasing pressure on existing court infrastructure, and called on the government to sustain its support by addressing the challenges.
“One of the greatest challenges we face is that of manpower deficit. With the rise of the case load, the takeoff of the Small Claims Court and other innovations, the manpower need of the judiciary has considerably risen. Judicial officers and other staff are overworked. This calls for the appointment of more judges, magistrates, researchers and other support staff in the system.
“Efforts are currently ongoing to open all courts outside Yenagoa to increase accessibility and reduce the cost of litigation. We have commenced work on the renovation of both the Magistrate and High Courts in Kaiama. Ogbia and Sagbama High Courts will follow in a matter of days. It is our hope that by end of the current year, all courts sitting outside their designated places of session would be fully relocated”, she said.
In his address, the Chairman of the Nigerian Bar Association, Yenagoa Branch, Somina Johnbull, assured the Chief Judge of the state NBA’s preparedness to work with her in building a virile judiciary for the benefit of all.
Johnbull, who expressed concern on a wide range of issues affecting the performance of judicial officers, called on relevant authorities to make an upward review of their salaries to strengthen and enhance the independence of the judiciary.
Also speaking, the Commissioner for Justice and Attorney General, Biriyai Dambo (SAN) and his predecessor, Kemasuode Wodu (SAN), acknowledged the harmonious working relationship between the executive and judiciary in the state.
While advising young lawyers to be patient, hardworking and diligent, Wodu also implored older members of the Bench and Bar to take their healthcare seriously.