Magistrates in the South Eastern part of the country have condemned the recent call by the Imo State Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice Barr. Chukwuma Machukwu Ume SAN for a legislation that will stop magistrates from becoming judges.
This came from majority of magistrate interviewed during the just concluded Biennial Conference of Magistrates in the South Eastern part of the country under the auspices of Magistrates Association of Nigeria (MAN).
The members of the lower bench were not happy at the above statement by the Imo Chief Law Officer stating that the call will not encourage magistrates to work hard.
‘A magistrate from Abia State who spoke on condition of anonymity had this to say: The statement is against meritocracy and progression. The joy of every worker is to be promoted. The Chief Justice of the Federation today Justice Aloma Mukhtar, Justice Mary Peter-Odili and many other former and present judges at various levels of courts in Nigeria all rose to the higher bench from magistracy and they have performed well. Therefore the Attorney-General’s statement is very unfortunate. Magistrates handle the bulk of criminal and civil cases. They are even called the ‘beast of burden’ of the judiciary. Yet a lawyer is saying they should not be elevated. On the contrary, magistrates are even the people who should be appointed judges more as their jobs at the lower bench are almost like that of the judges…’.
It could be recalled that in a key note address delivered by Barr. Ume during the Biennial Conference of South East Magistrates in Owerri, the Imo Chief Law Officer among other things called for a law to stop magistrates from becoming judges and the use of Igbo language in magistrate courts in the zone.
Nevertheless, in a lecture titled ‘The Contemporary Magistrates: The Need for a Paradigm Shift’ by Hon. Justice Uchechukwu Onyemenam of the Ilorin Division of the Court of Appeal at the event, inadequate emoluments, lack of job security and undue interference from the executive and legislative arms of government were identified as some of the factors militating against the independence of magistrates in justice administration in the South Eastern Nigeria.
The learned jurist said that every magistrate is free to decide matters before him in accordance with his assessment of facts and his understanding of the law without any improper influence, inducement or pressure from any quarter.
‘A magistrate is not subject to any authority other than the law in the exercise of his adjudicative functions. There must therefore be a buffer around each magistrate that would protect, secure and safeguard his tenure of appointment and conditions of service. His emoluments must not be adequate and free from reduction or threat of reduction. His appointment and conditions of service must be devoid of undue interference from either the executive or the legislature…’.
There were a lot of lectures on different topics presented by eminent jurists and legal practitioners in the country.