Sunday, 17 January 2021

Mobile Courts Are Constitutional, Lawful Under Nigerian Law (Part 1)

Mobile Courts Are Constitutional, Lawful Under Nigerian Law (Part 1)

By Udems

I read a piece titled, "The Illegality of Mobile Courts in Nigeria”, written by a respected learned friend, Douglas Ogbankwa (and published on the In that piece, my learned friend came to the following conclusion on the status of mobile courts In Nigeria:

"...It does follows that any Judgment obtained from these Mobile Courts alien to the Nigerian Jurisprudential Trajectory are liable to be set aside the those illegally convicted can sue for damages from the State or be compensated by the State. I hereby call for the immediate disbandment of all Mobile Court’s in Nigeria .A Court can not Mobile .A Court is avowed for its certainty of venue ,certainty of purpose, certainty of procedure/Law and strict adherence to Laws of the Land”!

With due respect to the learned author, it is a misinterpretation of extant laws  in Nigeria, and thus quite erroneous, to suggest that Mobile Courts are illegal or unconstitutional. The position of law is that where a court is presided over by a duly appointed judicial officer or other presiding officer (Magistrates, etc.), in line with the law or laws creating the court, and conducts its proceedings in public or in a place or location that is easily accessible to  members of the public, and in line with the provisions of section 36 of the Constitution of the Federal republic of Nigeria, 1999, the mere fact the affected court is designated a “Mobile Court” does not render the court illegal. Please, note that most mobile courts in Lagos, Edo, and other states in Nigeria are presided over by duly appointed Magistrates, who, by official directives or Practice Directions, are then posted (not created, contrary to Mr. Ogbankwa’s erroneous suggestion) to handle such responsibilities. 

I respectfully suggest that we must be careful to not mix or muddle up two or more unrelated issues. The question of (il)legality of Mobile Courts is one thing, the question of alleged violation of rights of citizens by any mobile court is an entirely different question. Where a Mobile Court has conducted its proceedings in a manner that allegedly/apparently infringes upon legal rights of a lawyer`s client or clients, or the court has otherwise acted or conducted its affairs/proceedings in a manner that runs contrary to provisions of any extant law, the affected lawyer should know what to do or how to seek redress for his/her client in the circumstances. With due respect, it is wrong for the lawyer in such a case to leave what he ought rightfully to do on behalf of his/her client, and instead begin on a wild goose chase, to challenge the constitutionality/legality of  so-called Mobile Courts on grounds that such courts have allegedly conducted their proceedings, or that a presiding officer of any of such courts has acted, in a manner allegedly considered to be in violation of rights of the lawyer`s client. How could the misbehaviour of the presiding officer of a particular court be or constitute any valid ground for questioning the constitutionality of such a court?

And again, have we considered the broader implications of the aspects of the law that approves of Visit to Locus in Quo. Is it not part of our laws that a court may conduct or continue its proceedings at the locus in quo — that is, at the location of the incident; the scene of an alleged crime, etc. Could anyone successfully argue that such proceedings conducted at the locus (i.e., at the scene), outside the precincts of the actual/physical courtroom, are unlawful? No, with due respect. Section 127(2) of the Evidence Act, 2011 provides as follows: 
"When an inspection of property under this section is required to be held at a place outside the courtroom, the court shall either -- (a) be adjourned to the place where the subject-matter of the said inspection may be and the proceeding shall continue at that place until the court further adjourns back to its original place of sitting, or to some other place of sitting; or (b) attend and make an inspection of the subject-matter only. evidence. if any. (..'II" what transpired there being given in court afterwards. and if) either case the defendant if an)'. shall be present"

Further, who tells us that Mobile Courts are creations of any Practice Directions? No! What we see or refer to as Mobile Court are Court preside over by already-appointed Magistrates who are now posted (vide Practice Directions) to go an try offenders at or around the scene of crime or the locus of the happening of the cause of action. It is not the Practice Direction that creates such courts or appoints their presiding officers.

This discussion should continue to Part 2, to involve members of the wider legal community, in order to settle these questions once and for all, in the interest of justice. 

I strongly abhor and accordingly deprecate ugly, unlawful conducts or unprofessional behaviors of some presiding officers of Mobile Courts. However, this is an entirely different issue or question from one now suggesting, albeit erroneously, that Mobile Courts are illegal Courts. In my humble view, there is no legal foundation for such a sweeping suggestion; submissions in support of "the illegality of mobile courts" are as legally barren as they’re constitutionally groundlessness. Watch out for the promised Part 2, please!
Sylvester Udemezue (udems)

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