Posted by News Express | 14 January 2014 | 4,437 times
A Federal High Court sitting in Abuja yesterday stopped the Federal Government and the state governors from handling the statutory allocations of the nation’s state high courts through their ministries of finance and the National Judicial Council, NJC.
Justice Adeniyi Ademola, who declared the 14-year-old practice as illegal and unconstitutional, also ordered that the state judiciary’s allocation from the Consolidated Revenue Fund must henceforth be released to the respective heads of the courts at state and federal levels.
The court also declared as unconstitutional, the piecemeal payment/allocation of funds through the states’ ministry of finance to the judiciary.
Justice Ademola made the pronouncements while delivering judgement in a suit by the Judiciary Staff Association of Nigeria, JUSUN, seeking an abolition of the unconstitutional practice.
The declarations effectively grant fiscal autonomy to the third arm of government and protects it from undue influence by the executive.
JUSUN had approached the Federal High Court vide an originating summons brought pursuant to Order 3 Rules 6 and 7 of the Federal High Court, Civil Procedure Rules, 2009, seeking to declare the practice of channelling the statutory allocations of state judiciaries through the states’ ministry of finance.
JUSUN noted that the practice of releasing the funds through the executive was not only unconstitutional but had also reduced the judiciary to a mere appendage of the executive in the states.
Besides, the state executives were said to be deliberately starving the judiciaries in their respective states with funds in order to get positive judgments from the judiciary. Successive Chief Justices of Nigeria, CJN, had also complained about the practice.
In the suit brought by JUSUN to fight for fiscal independence for the state judiciaries, it named the relevant government agencies and the state governments and NJC as defendants.
Justice Ademola declared that the “failure, neglect and refusal to pay the funds/amount standing to the credit of the states’ judiciary in the federation/ consolidated revenue funds directly to the heads of courts in the various states’ judiciary was a constitutional breach, which had to be stopped. “It is, therefore, unconstitutional, un-procedural, cumbersome, null, void and has to be abated forthwith.”
The court yesterday also declared that the piecemeal payment/allocation of funds through the Ministry of Finance to the states’ judiciary at the defendants’ pleasure “is unconstitutional, un-procedural, cumbersome, null, void, and had to be abated forthwith.”
The court said the refusal of the state governments to pay allocated funds to the heads of court in the states constituted gross misconduct and ordered that the Federal Government through the Accountant-General of the Federation, AGF, and the state governments should act promptly to avert constitutional crisis.
He also gave an order mandating the defendants to comply with the provisions of Sections 81(3), 212(3) and 162(9) of the Constitution of Nigeria 1999, as amended, in the disbursement of funds to the heads of courts.
The court stated that the constitutional provision on how funds should be paid to the state judiciary through the heads of courts was unambiguous and straightforward, pointing out that even a carpenter or a layman could interpret it without the services of a lawyer.
Justice Ademola noted that there had been shortcomings since the funds had been passing through the state governments as evident in the gross decay in the judiciary, lack of infrastructure and dilapidation of structures.
The court reiterated that the judiciary is not an agency or appendage of the state government but an independent arm of government with full autonomy.
The judge also granted an order of perpetual injunction “restraining the defendants, agents, assigns, privies etc from committing any further breach of the afore-said constitutional/statutory provisions.”
The court answered in the affirmative, the issue raised by JUSUN on whether; “Having regard to the provision of Sections 81(3), 212(3) and 162(9) of the Constitution of Nigeria 1999 as amended funds/amount standing to the credit of the judiciary in the Federation Account/Consolidated Revenue Fund of the federal and states shall not be paid directly to the heads of courts concerned.
•Credit (text only): National Mirror. Photo shows Chief Justice of the Federation, Aloma Mukhtar.
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