THE JUSTICE EKAETTE OBOT’S ORDER AGAINST MR. INIBEHE EFFIONG: ETHICAL MISSTEPS SHOULD BE CORRECTED
Earlier today I received that Mr Inibehe Effiong ESQ have been sent to Uyo prison by the Chief Judge of Akwa Ibom State, Justice Ekaette Obot, for one month on alleged contempt.
According to reports, the moment My Lord CJ entered the Courtroom, His Lordship ordered the orderly attached to the court to go out and bring the armed policemen inside the courtroom. After the Premium Times reporter was sent out, Mr. Inibehe raised the issue.
He further applied to the Court to ask the armed policemen with AK47 to leave the courtroom, that it was not proper and that he felt extremely unsafe and uncomfortable. The Court started writing. When the young lawyer thought it was going to be a ruling on his application to have the officers excused, unknown to him, my Lord CJ was writing a committal order to send him to Uyo prison without affording him the opportunity to say anything. Meanwhile, there was a pending motion for my Lord CJ to disqualify and recuse himself from the case on grounds of bias or likelihood of bias.
The Court ordered Mr. Inibehe Effiong to remove his wig and gown and that he was going to prison.
Lol. This is Impunity and judicial rascality taken too far. This single act of His Lordship, calls my Lord’s judicial integrity into question.
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This very act of my Lord CJ is so far afield of precedent and legal consideration. Such an egregious violation of fundamental right. My Lord acted with impunity towards the law.
Incidents where people are jailed without due process, is a high level of judicial misconduct.
Contempt is not committed unless there is real and substantial prejudice to Justice delivery.
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According to recent pronouncement by the Apex Court, the perimeters and parameters on contempt of court are under intense scrutiny. The law succinctly delineates the boundaries on committal orders.
A distinction must be drawn between what may annoy a Judge and what amounts to contempt.
A judge must be endowed with patience that is coupled with judicial dignity and tolerance to face extremely irritating situations.
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A Judge must display dignity, maturity and kindness.
An impatient Judge is no judge. He can never be in control of his court.
Impatience can lead to precipitate action. It is always better and safer to ignore little details, discourtesies, in the words of Hon. Justice S. O. Uwaifo JSC: “Small matters.”
It must also be noted that the power to punish for contempt is not a power to be recklessly used to assuage the injured feelings of the presiding judge. It is not contempt of court when a judge does not agree with Learned Counsel’s method of advocacy. Counsel has a constitutional right of audience. How he chooses to present his case is his own style. It would be unconstitutional and an abuse of office for a Judge to abridge Counsel’s right of audience by dangling or invoking his powers of contempt – Hon. Justice M.I Edokpayi.
On no account should a Judicial Officer loose his temper, never.
A classical case where an Acting Chief Magistrate acted beyond the boundaries of civil language is the case of Adeyemi Candide Johnson v Mrs. Esther Edigin. The facts of this case are simple and straight forward:
The respondent was an Acting Chief Magistrate Grade 2, in Kano, the appellant herein appeared in the court as counsel.
Consequent upon what transpired at the court, the respondent ordered the detention of the appellant for a couple of minutes at the cell. She (the respondent cited the appellant for contempt).
Decrying in the strongest of terms per ACHIKE J.C.A. Held: Apparently, when tempers rose rather meteorically, the respondent, exacerbated by the situation, unleashed this incisive question: When did you leave the Law School? The response was equally unrelenting: I will refuse to answer that question in the rudest manner. It was the refusal to answer his question, according to the record, that broke the camel’s back, and led to the detention of the appellant for contempt of court. It was unfortunately, to say the least, for the respondent, to have taken leave of her exalted bench, invited counsel to extra-judicial dialogue and thereafter descended into the area of vituperative conflict with him.
It is glaring that learned Acting Chief Magistrate abandoned the dignity of her court to pursue personal glory. Questions bordering on the age of counsel was glaringly and patently meant to injure Counsel’s ego.
His Lordship continued: I think that the invocation of the power of contempt in the instant case bordered on abuse of Judicial authority: It is clearly improper and will expose the administration of Justice to ridicule if a Magistrate or a presiding Officer of an inferior court were invested with such extraordinary powers to provoke unnecessary extra-judicial verbal exchange with Counsel or member of the public and yet invoke against him the lethal and drastic power to punish for contempt.
Also in Ikonne v. C.O.P. & Justice Nnana Nwachukwu, Aniagolu, J.S.C., described it as “untrammeled abuse of judicial authority.” In Sunday Okoduwa & 6 Others v The State, Nnamani, J.S.C., of blessed memory stated as follows: It is not a contempt of court to criticize the conduct of a Judge or the conduct of a court even if such criticism is strongly worded provided that the criticism is fair, temperate and made in good faith.”
The Supreme Court went to condemn this unwarranted abuse of power. The Court held: The learned trial Judge’s invocation of his power to punish for contempt of his court is an unwarranted exhibition of naked judicial power which put counsel and their clients in fear of the court and eroded an important trammel of fair trial.
The key here is maturity. Learned Counsel may say things irritating to the Judge. In such a situation experience and maturity will inform the Judge that it is best to maintain a dignified silence. Maturity will dictate sober and levelheaded self-control. – Hon. Justice M.I Edokpayi.
A Judge should never be rude, as a result of, or over-sensitive to remarks made even against him in court.
The Judge should not be provoked even “under fire” A Judge should keep his head when all about him, are losing theirs. If the Judge keeps cool, tempers will also cool down, and the proceedings will continue as though nothing happened – Hon. Justice M.I Edokpayi.
According to Hon. Justice Kayode Eso, JSC, as he then was. A Judge should never be rude, as a result of, or over-sensitive to remarks made even against him in court.
In Re O.C. Majorho v. Professor M. A. Fassassi. The issue was whether the Supreme Court Panel hearing the appeal can be properly accused of bias or partially and thus disqualified from further hearing of the appeal, in view of the earlier Order made by it ordering the personal attendance in court of all parties to the appeal. In that case, Learned Counsel for the appellant, Chief Rotimi Williams, O.C. SAN openly accused the Court of partiality and demanded a clear undertaking of the Court’s impartiality.
Eso JSC observed inter alia as follows: I am not aware of a single instance in the whole history of the Supreme Court when the Court has been requested to give an assurance of impartiality. I do hope that that day will never come when this court will be inhibited from asking any question which it considers necessary in pursuance of the interest of justice. The honesty and integrity of a Judge cannot be questioned, but his decision may be impugned for error, either of law or of fact… The Supreme Court did not invoke its power of contempt.
Lord Denning, M.R. puts this point more succinctly in Metropolis Exparte, Blackburn, “This is the first case, so far as I know, where this court has been called on to consider an allegation of contempt against itself. It is a jurisdiction which undoubtedly belongs to us but which we will most sparingly exercise, more particularly as we ourselves have an interest in the matter. Let me say at once that we will never use this jurisdiction as a means to uphold our own dignity. We will never use it to suppress those who speak against us. We do not fear criticism nor do we resent it. Counsel has criticized the court but in so doing he is exercising his undoubted right. That article contains an error, no doubt, but errors do not make it contempt of court. We must uphold his right to the uttermost. The court should not be impatient, immature and super-sensitive”.
Judicial misconduct breaks down the very fibre of what is necessary for a functional judiciary- citizens who believe their judges are fair and impartial. The judiciary cannot exist without the trust and confidence of the people. Judges must, therefore, be accountable to legal and ethical standards.
Failure to properly disqualify when the judge has a conflict of interest is a Judicial misconduct.
Judges should refrain from using judicial position to enhance a private interest.
A judges should maintain the dignity of the office at all times and avoid both impropriety and the appearance of impropriety in their professional and personal lives. Ethical missteps should be corrected.
My Lord CJ should be called to order because “No man is above the law and no man is below it; nor do we ask any man’s permission when we ask him to obey it. Obedience to the law is demanded as a right, not asked as a favor.” The Judges who administer justice in our countries must be seen as ethical and subject to meaningful correction when it is necessary. Nothing less than the rule of law is at stake.
The courts should not feel elated by compliments offered or be embarrassed by adverse criticisms.
Justice cries in silence for long, far too long. The procedural wrangle is eroding the faith in our justice system. We must turn the search light inward. Unlike the executive or legislature whose excesses beyond the constitution may be struck down by the judiciary, the judiciary and judges may be corrected only by public criticism.