Buhari promises judiciary financial autonomy, laments slow justice system

The President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), has said that his regime will continue to partner with the judiciary in ensuring that it is financially independent.

He also said to retain greater public confidence by Nigerians, the judiciary must be independent of all forms of interference and must maintain the highest level of responsiveness, professional standards, and integrity.

Buhari who was represented by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo said these on Monday while delivering a keynote address at the opening ceremony of the 2021 biennial All Nigeria Judges’ Conference held at the Andrews Otutu Obaseki Auditorium of the National Judicial Institute, Mohammed Bello Centre, Abuja.

Speaking on judicial autonomy, Buhari said, “The judiciary remains the last hope of the common man; it exercises powers that affect lives and liberties.

“A trusted, well-resourced and well-functioning judiciary is therefore essential to the entrenchment of the rule of law.

“To maintain this revered position, and retain greater public confidence by the citizens, the judiciary must be independent of all forms of interference and must maintain the highest level of responsiveness, professional standards, and integrity.

“We will continue to partner with you in ensuring that the judiciary is financially independent; and effectively and sustainably retains a preeminent position in the quality of jurists manning our courts and the jurisprudence that develops from their collective premier reasoning.”

The president said he was aware of the number of challenges slowing the pace of transformation in the administration of the justice system.

He said more needed to be done to strike a sound balance between a high level of productivity and the quality of judicial decisions.

He assured the judiciary that his regime, through the Federal Ministry of Justice in collaboration with the National Judicial Council, had been working towards the resolution of some of the challenges the judiciary faces today.

Buhari lamented the delayed dispensation of justice; a lingering cause for concern among citizens.

He said, “As my lords are aware, delay in the dispensation of justice coupled with the increase in the number of cases in our courts have remained subjects of grave concern. As someone said, ‘our problem is not access to justice; it is exiting the justice system’.

“And I know that delays are not necessarily the fault of judges; lawyers are often responsible.

“Should we not then, as has been suggested by some, evolve a cost-award system that recognizes the court as a finite and expensive public resource? And as such delays and other dilatory tactics are visited with deterrent costs?”

He said Nigeria was part of the global marketplace for investment and legal services.

Therefore, he added, the extent to which the country could attract business depended in part on investor perception of the quality of her justice delivery system.

“If we are seen as inefficient and ineffective, we would lose out to more efficient systems,” he warned.

Also, the president noted the swift response of the judiciary to the pandemic-imposed constraints.

He said as COVID-19 safety protocols became obligatory, practice directions were issued by several courts for remote hearing of cases, electronic filing of court processes, service of hearing notices via email addresses and mobile phone numbers of counsels, and e-payment of filing fees; with relevant devices installed.

“These innovative approaches have, in addition to ensuring compliance with the COVID-19 protocols, ensured that the wheels of justice continued to move unhindered – in some cases even faster than what was obtained during physical hearings,” Buhari said.

He added that speed, efficiency, and effectiveness attained aided in the decongestion of cases.

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