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Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Judges transfers, retirement stall suspects’ trials

By Sunmola Olowookere

Several suspects are now languishing in jàil as their cases at the Ondo State High Courts suffered setback due to the transfer  or retirement of some judges handling the cases.

Investigation by The Hope revealed that some of these cases have been on  for over a decade and in some cases, the defendants were awaiting judgement only for the trials to commence afresh because Judges in such cases were recently upgraded.

A typical example is Osabuowen Ebuchi, a police officer wallowing at the Olokuta correctional centre, Akure for the past seven years over a murder charge.

He had been remanded since 2016 which was the year he allegedly caused the death of one Ikechukwu James after he hit him on the head with the butt of the gun  while on a patrol duty on Ifon road.

According to information, the case had been on before a judge who retired and was started afresh before Justice Adeyemi Fasanmi.

In a fresh trial, the defendant was arraigned before the court on Wednesday, 24, November, 2021 on a lone count charge of murder.

Another case which had witnessed such long spell is a 10 count charge case ranging from arson, house breaking, assault to attempted murder in Aogo camp, Ofosu forest reserve which was committed by a traditional chief and three others.

The case was instituted in 2011 and the prosecution had been ongoing yet it is part of the cases starting de nouveau before Justice Williams Olamide, The Hope reports.

The Hope also observed that families of the accused persons go about  with air of dezpondency while trying to get legal representation for their remanded loved ones as the lawyers had to be “briefed” – (a term for paying for a lawyer’s services) afresh too.

Reacting, Dean, Faculty of Law,  Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba Akoko, Dr. Olugbenga Oke-Samuel stated that the issue has generated a lot of controversies in recent time and declared that the wisdom that informed the presence of the rule has become obsolete.

He stressed that there was no justification for its retention and that the disadvantages outweighs the usefulness as it has been found to have led to escape for criminals.

While citing the case of Orji Uzor Kalu as an example, Prof. Oke argued that there was no doubt that it could lead to violation of the rights of a suspect or defendant in a criminal matter as this might keep such person in perpetual incarceration and can lead to undue delay in dispensation of justice.

Speaking on the issue, the Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Charles Titiloye held a contrary view as he stated cases being started afresh is a provision of the law which is to avoid miscarriage of Justice as the  judge coming in afresh may not understand the case.

He explained that a trial judge would need to study the demeanor of the witnesses and defendants to know whether they are lying and not just rely on what his colleague did while handling the matter.

On whether it would not amount to waste of resources, he believed that such sentiments were immaterial compared to giving parties to a case a fair hearing.

“What matters is protecting their fundamental human rights which is to present their cases adequately. We must ensure that no innocent man is unjustly punished. When we talk about getting justice, then we cannot talk about justice delay because it is the end result that matters”.

While stating that he did not hold the view because he was coming from a private law practice, the commisioner assured that as a human rights activist, he believes more in protecting fundamental human rights over other technical issues.

He also informed that the provision was not a law but a judicial precedent which can only be changed at the level of the Supreme Court.

Titiloye however expressed fear that the change might not augur well for the dispensation of justice as it could result in what he termed as “miscarriage of Justice”.

He stated that creation of more criminal courts in Ondo State Judiciary contributed to the development but regretted that he could not state the actual number of criminal cases that had prosecuted afresh.

Also speaking on the matter, the former NBA chairman, Akure branch, Ola Dan Olawale informed that the Judicial practice is observed worldwide and not only in Nigeria while saying that a trial judge in determining a case needed to study the demeanor of the witnesses and not rely on notes prepared by a former judge in the matter.

He agreed that the process delays justice but opined that justice cannot be sacrificed on the altar of speed.

Olawale however advised that accelerated hearing would go a long way in solving the problem and ensuring that cases are not dragged on more than was necessary.

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