The House of Representatives on Tuesday fast-forwarded a proposal to establish the Ecclesiastical Court of Appeal of the Federal Capital Territory and the 36 states of the federation.
A bill seeking to amend the 1999 Constitution in order to establish such courts passed second reading at the House in Abuja.
A replica of the Sharia Court of Appeal, the bill defines the functions and jurisdiction of the courts as well as the qualifications of the presiding judges.
The judges shall be cardinals drawn from the Christian faith.
”The Ecclesiastical Court, when established, shall complement the regular courts in adjudicating in matters relating to the tenets of the Christian faith between individuals and groups that yield and submit to its jurisdiction,” a notation on the bill read.
It was sponsored by a member from Plateau State, Mr. Gyang Istifanus-Dung, and eight other lawmakers.
The others are Yusuf Tajudeen, Kwewum Shawulu, Solomon Maren, Gaza Jonathan, Shiddi Danjuma, Timothy Golu, Johnbull Shekarau and Sunday Katung.
Being a constitutional amendment bill, the piece of legislation passed second reading in a majority voice vote without elaborate debate.
It was referred to the Ad Hoc Committee on Review of the 1999 Constitution for detailed analysis.
The session was presided over by the Speaker, Mr. Yakubu Dogara, who said the constitution review committee would work on the bill and report back to the House.
The constitution review committee is chaired by the Deputy Speaker, Mr. Yussuff Lasun.
Istifanus-Dung, in defending the bill, spoke on the jurisdiction of the Ecclesiastical Court, explaining:
“It shall exercise such appellate and supervisory jurisdiction in civil proceedings involving questions of Ecclesiastical Law and Christian Personal Law…”
Section 27C(1) (2) of the bill, gives details of jurisdiction of the court, among which are “any question of Christian personal law regarding marriage concluded in accordance with that law; including a question relating to the validity or dissolution of such marriage or a question that depends on such a marriage and relating to family relationship or the guardianship of an infant.”
It added, “Where all the parties to the proceedings are Christians, any question or Christian personal law regarding a marriage where no prior or subsequent customary or statutory marriage is contracted, including the validity or dissolution of that marriage, or regarding family relationship, a founding or the guardianship of an infant…”
The bill specifically provides that when all parties to a case before a court of first instance are Christians, the case should be determined in accordance with Christian personal law, or any question.
The qualifications, appointments and tenure of the cardinals are spelt out in Section 270 C(1)-(5) of the bill.
Istifanus-Dung explained further that, “The judges (cardinals) of the Ecclesiastical Court shall be drawn from those learned in law and shall be required to administer justice in accordance with the Christian faith and the law of the nation.”
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