Prominent human rights lawyer and activist, Femi Falana (SAN), has condemned the imposition of fines by Nigeria's high court judges on public interest litigants, describing their action as unconstitutional.
Recently, some high court judges have imposed fines ranging from N5 million to N10 million on concerned citizens whose cases were struck out for want of locus standi.
The legal expert said, in a statement issued today that such action cannot be justified under the Constitution and the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act.
He, thus, considered it a renewed attack on public interest litigation by the udges.
"Specifically, the Fundamental Rights (Enforcement Procedure) Rules 2009 have enjoined judges to encourage public interest litigation in promoting the human rights of Nigerian people. Ex abundanti cautela, the doctrine of locus standi has been abolished in the area of human rights by Order III of the Fundamental Rights Enforcement Procedure Rules 2009," Falana asserted.
He added that since access to court has been guaranteed by sections 6 and 36 of the 1999 Constitution and article 7 of the African Charter on Hunan and Peoples Rights Act, it is illegal and unconstitutional to impose fines on aggrieved citizens who approach the courts to challenge the illegal official policies or unconstitutional legislations under the current democratic dispensation.
"As far as the law stands," the senior advocate of Nigeria pointed, "no judge has the power to order a litigant to pay costs outside the ambit of the Rules of the respective high courts. Even in the award of costs litigants and their counsel are given fair hearing by judges. Why then are fines imposed on litigants or lawyers without allowing them to make any representation?"
Continuing, he said: "I wish to state that no judge is empowered by the Constitution, High Court Law or Rules of Court to impose fines of N5 million or N10 million on a litigant who has not been tried and convicted for committing a criminal offence in Nigeria.
We are therefore compelled to draw the attention of our judges to the case of Fawehinmi v Akilu (1997) NWLR (Pt 65) 979 wherein the Supreme Court overruled the case of Abraham Adesanya v The President (1981) ANLR 1.
"Since the anachronistic doctrine has been set aside to pave way for public interest litigation our judges should desist from striking out or dismissing cases.