A justice advocacy group, Access to Justice, has condemned the presence of the Lagos State Chief Judge, Justice Ayoola Philips, at the signing into law of the state’s Traffic Law by Governor Babatunde Fashola last Thursday.
In a statement signed by its Executive Director, Mr. Joseph Otteh, Access to Justice said as the head of the judiciary in the state it was wrong for Justice Philips to have attended the event knowing full well that the judiciary will ultimately decide controversies surrounding the legality of the law.
The group added that Justice Philips’ presence at the ceremony sent a wrong signal to the public and questioned the fundamental principles of separation of powers and the independence of the Judiciary, if viewed in the light of society’s concern over the erosion of judicial integrity.
According to Access to Justice, “The Judiciary is an institutional watchdog over the rights and liberties of the citizens, and as well watches over the exercise of legislative and executive powers to ensure that it observes the respective limits of constitutional powers,” it stated.
It would be recalled that the Chief Judge was amongst other dignitaries in attendance at the Banquet Hall of Lagos House, Ikeja to witness the signing into law by the governor.
The group further stated that a Chief Judge’s words, actions, omissions, conduct or body language should never be subject to the interpretation that the judiciary has taken sides on the merits or demerits of particular interventions or policies taken by government.
“Judges have a primary responsibility to conduct themselves at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary,” the statement added.
“That is why the Code of Conduct for Judicial Officers provides that a judicial officer shall “... conduct himself at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the Judiciary” (Rule 1(1)). Public confidence in the independence and impartiality of Judges is impacted of course by realities as well as perceptions,” it stated.
Access to Justice concluded that the CJ’s presence at the ceremony may colour public perceptions that the Judiciary will be unable to independently adjudge any disputes arising from the enforcement of the law should it come before Lagos Judges for interpretation.
“As we strive to promote a democratic and civil society, it is pertinent that judicial officers observe high standards of conduct so that the integrity and independence of the judiciary may be preserved and the confidence of the citizenry in the system maintained,” it stated.