By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA—THE Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Walter Onnoghen, yesterday, warned lawyers and members of the public to desist from making unguarded comments on cases pending before courts.
The CJN, in a statement by his media aide, Mr. Awassam Bassey, said Judges should consider invoking inherent power of contempt against anyone discussing any matter pending in any court of law in the press.Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Walter Onnoghen
Justice Onnoghen said he was particularly concerned about comments in the media concerning to ongoing legal dispute over the Anambra Central Senatorial District seat.
The statement read: “Attention of the Honourable, the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), His Lordship Hon. Mr. Justice Walter Samuel Nkanu Onnoghen, has been drawn to the emerging and continued practice of discussions of matters that are subjudice in the print and electronic media, such as the issues concerning the Anambra State Central Senatorial District dispute. The CJN wishes to remind the general public that it is Contempt of Court for anyone to discuss any matter pending in any Court of Law in the country. The punishment for Contempt may include a term of imprisonment.
“To make matters worse, in such discourse, the language being used in describing the judgments of the Courts is not only ungentlemanly, degrading and contemptuous, but amounts to uncharitable insults which should not be encouraged in any decent democracy. It is in the light of the above that the Hon. CJN continues to encourage parties and the general public to use only lawful means in the pursuit of remedies for their real and imagined grievances.
“The Hon. CJN reiterates his appeal to litigants, advocates and the public to refrain from making unsubstantiated and malicious allegations and complaints against Judicial Officers, and reminds Judges to consider invoking their inherent power of contempt where there are clear violations or infractions in respect of matters that are subjudice. The Hon. CJN, once again, assures Nigerians that the Judiciary of this great nation remains committed in the discharge of its responsibilities in line with the Constitution of Nigeria without fear or favour; affection or ill-will.
“The Hon. CJN ends his admonition by referring the public to the case of Attorney-General vs Times Newspapers Ltd (1973) 3 All ER 54 at 65 (1973) 3 WLR 298, where Lord Reid opined thus: I think that anything in the nature of prejudgment of a case or of specific issues in it is objectionable not only because of its possible effect on that particular case but also because of its side effects which may be far reaching.
‘’Responsible mass media will do their best to be fair, but there will also be ill-informed, slapdash or prejudiced attempts to influence the public. If people are led to think that it is easy to find the truth, disrespect for the processes of the law could follow and, if mass media are allowed to judge, unpopular people and causes will fare very badly.’’