Don’t say High Court judge ‘does not know law’; its just a new beginning!
By: Hameed Ajibola Jimoh Esq.
There are and have been occasions where some lawyers are disappointed at either the character or the manner of handling a case by a judge in court or in a matter that they are involved in, especially in the high court. Also, no doubt that the motive of every lawyer representing a client is to ensure that his client becomes victorious in the case, hence, the use of every skill known to the lawyer to ensure that his goal in court is achieved in favour of his client. However, at some occasions, this might not work according to how the lawyer had envisaged. This might have been the cause of the statement made by some of these lawyers that that particular judge ‘does not know law’, especially a High Court’s Judge who preside over trial proceedings and weigh evidence, though, they might be right sometimes (having regard to the human nature to the judicial officers, with due respect!
In my humble view, it is important to note that the position of a high court judge is a position that is really uneasy. The Constitutional requirement of a minimum of 10 years post call for qualification of an appointment to be a high court judge is important to mention. At this stage or level, such a judge is presumed to still be in the youthful age and still agile to do a lot of legal research and to hold long hearing proceedings between or among parties before the court. How would it in the normal sense, take a lawyer of 10 years post call to know all the law?! That is why in my humble view, the Constitution has also provided that an aggrieved litigant has the right to appeal against the decision of a high court judge whether interlocutory or final decision. In fact, as a matter of fact, some lawyers who got the privilege of being appointed to the bench as a judge of the high court might not be doing well under the said 10 years post call, with due respect to them! That is why some lawyers might see the judicial office as a place of rest and rescue from the rigorous nature of the private practice, though I understand that even some public offices’ jobs are tedious as though the private practice.
That is why how much someone has done as a lawyer before becoming a holder of a judicial office will tell in his capacity as a judge. If he was lazy, his laziness will embarrass him and if he had been hardworking, his hard work will win him many awards in his capacity as a judge. That is why I recommend most humbly that the appointment to the office of a judge should be on merit rather than being on how connected you are to any influential person or as a family arrangement. Also, there should be a continuous training for judicial officers. This will equip them in delivering a qualitative, just and judicious decision/judgment, having regards to the facts and evidence placed before the court by parties to the dispute.
Furthermore, we all (as lawyers) have to understand that everyone has a new beginning in life even a year old lawyer (post call). Therefore, one has to undergo a new learning faculty in such a new environment and new beginning. Even if a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (with due respect), is appointed as a high court judge, he still needs to learn the new office and its customs, which he might not really find very interesting and or easy in his first few years. That is why after a gradual learning, skills and research skills that he has acquired, he performs better (and that is for a diligent judge).
More so, the appellate court taking cognizance of the years of a high court judge as a judge, is likely not to chastise such judge for slight and forgivable error where there is an appeal on the decision of that particular judge. Sometimes too, the justices of the appellate court direct that the judge who delivered the decision/judgement being appealed against should be served a copy of the judgment of the appellate court perhaps for the high court judge to consider the reasoning and decision of the appellate court.
Furthermore, it is no doubt that the judicial role and the office is not an easy task beyond what is seen by the audience in the open court. Many times too, judicial officers have to battle with both ceremonial, administrative and judicial roles at the same time, therefore, as a human, all these multi-tasking functions have impacts on their health and commitment to the judicial functions and cause a backlog of cases on the judicial docket. A footballer too is blamed many times by even someone who cannot even dribble his opponents not to talk of scoring a goal because such a spectator does not really know how tedious the football field is in motion!
Finally, I humbly recommend that high judge judges should be tolerated for some of their mistakes especially those in their early years in the judicial office and where there is any grievance against their decision/judgment (though, it might be very annoying sometimes), an appeal to the appellate court would be more proper in that circumstance rather than alleging that a judge ‘does not know law’ as this comment (even if it is true about some judges in some high courts, with due respect to My Lords), is likely to undermine the integrity of that judicial office and the judiciary as a body.