Fiery lawyer, Mr. J.S Okutepa (SAN), on Wednesday, accused Mr. Mike Ozekhome (SAN) and other senior lawyers handling corruption cases of frustrating trials of suspects through the use of technicalities and the unethical practice of secret consultations with judges presiding over their clients' cases.
Mr. Okutepa made the accusation at the recently concluded 5th Criminal Justice Reform Conference of the National Bar Association (NBA), which held in Asaba, Delta State.
The conference, which had as theme "Criminal Justice Reforms in Nigeria: The Journey So Far", was opened by Mr. Ifeanyi Okowa, governor of Delta State.
In attendance at the Asaba Convention Centre, the conference venue, were leading lawyers, judges and Bar associations from across the country. Participants were there to examine the challenges of effective, timely and just administration of criminal justice in the country.
At one of the sessions, with the sub-theme "Corruption, Economic and Financial Crimes: Special Courts to the Rescue?", Mr. Ozekhome was among panelists to discuss papers presented by representatives of Mr. Ibrahim Magu, Acting Chairman, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC); and Professor Bolaji Owasanoye, Executive Secretary, Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC).
Mr. Ozekhome opposed the creation of special courts to try corruption cases, saying judges of such courts tend to consider themselves as special support for the prosecution agencies. He also accused some of the judges of meeting with prosecutors without the defence counsel being present. Mr. Ozekhome equally opposed the timeline for the trial of criminal cases.
Responding, Mr. Okutepa accused many senior lawyers involved in criminal trials of being impediments to such trials. According to him, the delay in corruption and criminal trials are deliberately instigated and technicalities deployed to delay them.
He alleged that many senior lawyers conduct trials through consultations with the presiding judges and some judges “Nicodemusly” decide cases in consultation with the counsel.
In response to Mr. Ozekhome’s opposition to the timeline for conclusion of criminal trials, Mr. Okutepa brought the latter’s attention to the maxim, "Justice delayed is Justice denied".
Just as though he seemed to have finished responding, Mr. Okutepa challenged lawyers in the hall to raise their hands if they have not conducted their cases in 'consultation' with judges presiding over their matters.
Less than 10 per cent of lawyers in attendance had the courage to raise their hands.
The session, chaired by Justice Suleiman Galadima, retired Justice of Supreme Court and Chairman of the National Judicial Commission (NJC) Corruption and Financial Crimes Cases Trial Monitoring Committee, closed with the conference unanimously agreeing on the need for designated courts to deal with corruption and financial crimes cases.