Rowdy Court Sessions And Picking Fights Within Court Premises – Who Is Violently Pulling The Tiger’s Tail And Getting Away With It
In thriving democracies across the globe, the Court, the courtroom and its environs are sacred and venerated. In Nigeria, “Court” is interpreted in section 258 of the Evidence Act, 2011 to include all Judges and Magistrates and, except arbitrators, all persons legally authorised to take evidence. This should not confuse anyone although it is highly arguable whether Nigeria is a thriving democracy and whether the Courts in Nigeria are adulated.
Judicial powers of the Courts are humungous but they are exercised judiciously [meaning reasonably and not arbitrarily]. Hence, the Court can bark and bite. The Court can also bite without needing to bark
The Court jealously preserves its jurisdiction, authority and majesty. It does not brook real or perceived affront to its dignity or disobedience or interference with its orders or processes. Such contemptuos infractions are decisively punished to serve as a deterrent to others.
Every self respecting citizen is careful not to be cited for contempt of court which can arise either in the face of the court [in facie curiae] or outside the court [ex facie curiae].
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The Court, being the presiding judicial officer, is shown uncompromising respect by litigants and lawyers alike.
The courtroom is serious place for conducting judicial business- not a place for unnecessary show off, clowning or sycophantic displays.
Unarguably, picking a fight inside the courtroom or around the court premises amounts to violent twist of the tiger’s tail. It has dire consequences.
Back in the days, “NOISELESS ZONE” signs, warnings or notices were conspicuously displayed around approaches and corners of the court premises.
The court premises is designated a “NOISELESS ZONE” because no sounding of vehicle horns, no blaring of sirens, no indiscriminate parking of vehicles or general display of indiscipline is allowed.
No one is permitted to clap, sing, cheer, beat drums, chant solidarity songs, shout and jeer either inside the courtroom during proceedings or within the court premises.
It is a taboo to do otherwise. Such contempt in the face of the Court [in facie curiae] can be punished summarily.
As an extension of the trite rule on veneration of the Courts, matters under judicial consideration are prohibited from public discussion elsewhere as to prejudice its outcome. That is constructive contempt [ex facie curiae]. It is subjudice and a naked usurpation of judicial powers.
To further preserve the inviolability of the Courts and its appurtenances, arrest is not to be effected in or within the court premises by any private or public person or authority no matter the nature of the alleged crime except on the express order of the Court.
Proceedings in court are clothed with immunity and are usually conducted with utmost decorum and civility. No physical attacks, threats, abuses or use of obscene or needlessly offensive words or gestures.
Trials in court are required to be conducted in public [not secret trial which is seldom adopted perhaps for security reasons or young age of the Defendant] where members of the public have access. Open trial is guaranteed in section 36 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 as amended.
However, prior leave or approval of the Court will be sought and obtained to enable anyone record and or broadcast judicial proceedings live. In deserving cases that do not compromise the security of the State or that of the Court and members of the public, the Court will not object to such innocuous recording or live transmission of judicial proceedings as it enhances the credibility, transparency and public perception of open trial.
Members of the public need to be kept abreast of judicial proceedings that are of public interest. Justice must not only be done, it must be seen to have been manifestly done.
Succinctly stated, it is a punishable offence to disrespect the Judex or desecrate the courtroom or court premises whether or not the Court is in session. The court is not a place of anything goes, mischief or drama. It is not a political rally or religious crusade ground, stadium or carnival.
Sadly, past and present events in the court systems around the country suggest that these golden rules about the sanctity of the Court, the inviolability of the courtroom and or court premises are obeyed more in breaches than observances.
Although there are uncountable numbers and variants of despicable acts of disdain for the courts (often perpetrated with reckless abandon), a few recent examples will suffice.
Some days ago, litigants, including meddlesome interlopers, were seen inside the Court of Appeal [sitting as Presidential Petition Tribunal] dragging who is the rightful person to appear as a representative of Labour Party in its presidential election petition all in order to orchestrate confusion and delay proceedings. The Court of Appeal in its wisdom refused to reckon with the presence of any of the rival claimants and refused to yield to that antics which is designed to arrest proceedings. One of the rival claimants [as both cannot be right] knows that on the strength of the law, he was an impostor and could easily have been cited for contempt for disrupting proceedings by carrying political mischief to the hallowed chamber. Any lawyer behind such contemptuous conduct was lucky to have escaped with only an open reprimand by the Honourable Court.
In that same matter, it was observed as captured on camera that some persons who came late to Court were dragging seats with those who came to court earlier and already seated.
It is costly ignorance for the late comers not to know that there are no special seats or reserved seats for litigants, witnesses and members of the public in the courtroom. Litigants and members of the public sit in the Court gallery on “first come first served basis”. The rule is “early bird gets the worm”. To insist otherwise is an act of contempt.
No matter how crowded the courtroom may be, no one who is not a lawyer is ever allowed or expected to sit in the Bar [being the section of the court room sitting arrangement exclusively reserved for lawyers to sit and conduct their cases]. Big man no reach am but our obstinate politicians will neither hear nor obey. With their oversized Suits and overflowing Agbada, these litigants almost overrun the Bar thus denying lawyers their privilege sitting position in courts as Ministers in the Temple of Justice.
Lying to the court, misleading or deliberately misrepresenting facts to the Court are also punishable offences.
These transgressions are attributable more to wilful disobediences than ignorance hence this intervention. Even at that, ignorance of the law is not an excuse [ignorantia nominem excusat].
The Courts need to stamp out the worrisome rascality and contemptuous conducts within the courtrooms and around the Court premises as things are getting out of hand.
In many reported cases in the past, overzealous security officials have invaded the Courts to forcefully effect arrests, intimidate judicial officers and or staff of Courts and nothing happened.
Countless times, thugs or unruly politicians have countless times been reported to have physically molested judicial officers or disrupted court proceedings with nothing coming out of them. Nigerian politicians have a way of desecrating sacred institutions, the courts not being excepted
It is now obvious that this will not stop unless and until politicians are made to keep their trademark rascality and lawlessness out of the courtroom or court premises.
The big stick should be wielded by the Courts to demonstrate once more that the law may be an ass but only fools ride it. There will be “brain reset” when notable offenders are cited and punished for contempt in order to restore the serenity that should prevail in the courtroom and around the court premises.
He who violently twists the tiger’s tail should have a story to tell. Presevation of the majesty of the judiciary remains an irreducible minimum.
Any pig headed person who shows utter contempt for the Court or administration of justice system should never be spared. The heavens will not fall; only useful lessons would have been learnt.
A new normal is possible!
Prof Obiaraeri, N.O.