2022/2023 Legal Year: Supreme Court overwhelmed by 6,884 cases, CJN Ariwoola laments
The Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Olukayode Ariwoola, yesterday said the Supreme Court was overwhelmed by cases, some of which are flimsy.
To him, some of the cases should not be in court, let alone on appeal.
Justice Ariwoola noted that the Supreme Court ranks as the busiest in the world due to Nigerians’ preference for litigation as against exploring other dispute resolution mechanisms.
He urged the National Assembly to speed up the process of amending the Constitution to reduce the number of cases that go to the Supreme Court.
The CJN spoke in Abuja at a special session of the Supreme Court to mark the commencement of the 2022/2023 legal year and the swearing-in of 63 newly conferred Senior Advocates of Nigeria.
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He said: “The Nigerian public needs to be reminded of the need to do less litigation and embrace more of alternative dispute resolution to free the courts of this unnecessary over-stretching of human and material resources.
“As rightly observed, Nigerians are the most litigious people on earth; especially the political class.
“We don’t need to rush to court after every little disagreement. We have various alternative dispute resolution mechanisms across the country that we can conveniently leverage, with a view to freeing the courts of this incessant case overload.
“In every little disagreement, we rush to court; and in every lost case, we rush to appeal even up to the Supreme Court, no matter how little the issue might be.
“That has obviously accounted for the several appeals pending in Supreme Court.
“Though we receive scathing criticisms from members of the public over our over-blotted docket, we are neither in any position to regulate case inflow to the court nor have the supernatural powers to attend to all in one fell swoop.”
Justice Ariwoola, who gave statistical details about the Supreme Court’s performance in the last legal year, said 6,884 appeals were currently pending.
“Our pending (backlog) civil appeals are 4,741 while the number of pending criminal appeals is 1,392.
“On the other hand, we have 751 moribund appeals for disposal which brings the total number of pending appeals in this honourable court to 6884.
“Out of the 4,741 civil appeals in the court’s docket, 1,495 have briefs filed and exchanged and are ready for hearing; whereas, the remaining 3,246 appeals are having about 10,000 motions, with some contentious and others innocuous in nature.
“As for the pending 1,392 criminal appeals, 461 already had briefs filed and exchanged and are ready for hearing.
“The remaining 931 appeals have about 2,000 different motions for hearing to determine their eligibility for hearing.
“However, the identified 751 moribund appeals are to be disposed of for non-compliance with the Supreme Court Rules, i.e. Order 8 Rule 8.
“Also, within the window offered by the 2021/2022 legal year, the Supreme Court entertained a total number of 1,764 cases, comprising of motions and appeals.
“Out of these, we heard 816 Civil, 370 criminal and 16 political matters, making a total of 1,202 motions.
“Similarly, the court considered a total number of 562 appeals, comprising of 341 civil, 186 criminal, and 35 political. A total number of 154 Judgments were delivered in the year,” the CJN said.
Justice Ariwoola believes the country was witnessing perilous times and requires all hands be on deck to salvage the situation.
He said: “The times we are in, are quite perilous! All hands must be on deck to make the best out of the unpleasant situation.
“The rate of high-calibre crimes in the land is increasing by the day. Never in the history of Nigeria have we experienced such before.
“Security of lives and property can no longer be guaranteed; and as this is happening, so are cases streaming freely into the courts for adjudication.
“That has made the task before us more doubting. No one can afford to sit on the fence at this critical point we have found ourselves,” he said.
Justice Ariwoola, who noted that the Judiciary experienced some challenging moments during the last legal year, said it also recorded major successes.
He pledged that the third arm of government would do more this year to deliver on its constitutional mandate of justice delivery.
He added: “The prosperity of the Nigerian judiciary is the responsibility of all of us.
“We must not shy away from the challenges Staring us in the face because if the judiciary fails, there will certainly be no country to call Nigeria.
“Those wishing us bad and even engaging in different forms of unwholesome conduct to sink the ship, will certainly not be comfortable with the likely result that would emerge from such unpatriotic effort.
“Nigeria is a project in our hands that must be collectively nurtured to prosperity and Eldorado.
“We cannot run away from those vices that confront us as a nation, rather, we have to fasten our belts and face them head-on,” the CJN said.
He commended the Corruption and Financial Crimes Cases Trial Monitoring Committee (COTRIMCO) for its performance in the last legal year, noting that it facilitated the prompt determination of many cases.
“Between October 2021 and September 2022, a total number of 3,563 convictions were made through the collaborative effort of the committee.
“There was an equally large number of forfeited cash and non-cash recoveries made within the period,” the CJN said.