As part of an anti-corruption policy of the Mohammadu Buhari administration, an executive bill for the establishment of a special court clothed with exclusive jurisdiction to try corruption cases was submitted to the National Assembly.
Although it was submitted over a year ago the federal legislators have not deemed it fit to pass the crucial bill into law for reasons best known to them. Hence corruption cases have been subjected to inordinate delays in our courts which are congested with many other cases.
However, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, the Honourable Justice Walter Onnoghen has intervened in a decisive manner by issuing a directive to all heads of courts in Nigeria to create special courts for the exclusive trial of corruption cases. The Chief Justice deserves commendation for the radical initiative. No doubt, the timely intervention of the Chief Justice will go a long way to speed up the trial of corruption cases in all our courts.
To make a success of the directive, the Chairman of the Code of Conduct Tribunal, the Chief Judges of the States, and the Federal Capital Territory should be directed by the Chief Justice of Nigeria to issue Practice Directions to accelerate the determination of corruption cases.
In addition, the Supreme Court (Criminal Appeals) Practice Directions 2013, Court of Appeal (Criminal Appeals) Practice Directions 2013, and Court of Appeal (Fast Track) Practice Directions 2014, as well as the Federal High Court Practice Directions 2013 issued by the heads of the respective courts should be put to use as they are designed to give priority to the trial and appeals arising from cases of corruption, money laundering, terrorism, rape, and kidnapping and human trafficking.
To obviate undue delay in the determination of corruption cases the Practice Directions have made special provision for the service of processes on parties by electronic mail addresses, facsimile numbers, GSM telephone numbers, or any other available mode of communication.
Even though the Supreme Court has upheld the constitutional validity of section 306 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act with respect to the abolition of stay of proceedings in criminal trials in all federal courts, some defence counsel have devised new dilatory tactics including the practice of subjecting each prosecution witness to cross-examination lasting for 20 days or more by asking irrelevant questions and sending junior lawyers to court to ask for adjournment to allow senior counsel in chambers to personally handle the cross-examination of prosecution witnesses.
Trial courts should stop such delay tactics which are programmed to defeat the letter and spirit of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015. Finally, defense counsel who conspires with their clients to frustrate the prosecution of corruption cases should be made to pay punitive costs while not more than 3 lawyers should appear in court for any of the parties in corruption cases.
Femi Falana SAN