The National Judicial Council has appealed against a judgment which stopped it from inviting Justice Adeniyi Ademola of the Abuja Division of the Federal High Court for investigation over a petition written against him.
Justice John Tsoho, also of the Abuja Division of the Federal High Court, had in his judgment delivered on July 7, 2017, in a suit filed by Justice Ademola, held that the author of the petition having withdrawn it, the NJC lacked the power to continue to investigate Justice Ademola over the allegations contained in the petition.
But in its 10 grounds notice of appeal dated August 14, 2017, the NJC asked the Court of Appeal in Abuja to set aside the judgment of the Federal High Court in its entirety.
Through its counsel, Dr. Elijah Okebukola, the NJC argued as part of its grounds of appeal that the Federal High Court was wrong to have assumed jurisdiction over the matter.
The council maintained that the Federal High Court assumed jurisdiction in the matter where the National Industrial Court of Nigeria had exclusive jurisdiction.
It stated, “The conduct in issue relates to the work of the respondent as a judicial officer and employee of the Federal Government of Nigeria under the supervision and regulation of the first appellant.
“In relation to the conduct in issue, the Respondent was summoned by the first appellant for investigations pursuant to the Judicial Discipline Regulations.
“The disciplinary control of judicial officers and matters connected therewith are employment matters.
“The National Industrial Court of Nigeria has exclusive jurisdiction in disputes relating to the disciplinary control of an employee by an employer or persons designated by the employer.
“The respondent alleged a violation or likely violation of his fundamental human rights.
“The National Industrial Court of Nigeria has exclusive jurisdiction in disputes relating to the breach or alleged breach of human rights of an employee by his employer.”
It also argued in another grounds of appeal that the trial court that had the power to investigate a judge even after the petition against the judge had been withdrawn.
It therefore stated that the Federal High Court “erred in law by holding that Sections 36 (5) & (6) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria preclude the first appellant from investigating the subject matter of a withdrawn petition.
It added, “Sections 36 (5) & (6) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria relate to ‘every person who is charged with a criminal offence.’
“The investigations of the first appellant into the conduct of the Respondent is not a criminal charge against the Respondent.
“The investigatory activities of the first appellant pursuant to its supervisory and regulatory roles are not a criminal trial.”
The NJC also argued that the Federal High Court misdirected itself “by relying on the respondent’s assertion that he was required to prove his innocence over an allegation arising out of or in connection with a withdrawn petition.”
It stated as part of the particulars of the alleged error committed by the trial court that “there was conflicting evidence as to whether the petition against the respondent was withdrawn.
“The Judicial Discipline Regulations empowers the first appellant to continue an investigation even where the petition against a judicial officer has been withdrawn.
“The investigation of the first appellant is a fact-finding exercise.
“The appearance of the respondent before the fact-finding panel of first appellant is not a call for the Respondent to prove his innocence.
“The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria I999 does not limit the supervisory or regulatory roles of the first appellant to only cases where there is a petition against a judicial officer.”
In another grounds of appeal, the NJC stated that “The learned trial court erred in law by assuming jurisdiction in the matter despite its being incompetent for failing to comply with Order 34 Rule 5(4) of the Federal High Court (Civil Procedure) Rule 2009.”
The NJC also faulted the Federal High Court’s judgment on the basis that the court “erred in law by holding that the appellants’ (NJC’s) investigation was for the respondent (Justice Ademola) to prove his innocence”.
It explained that it sought to investigate the conduct of Justice Ademola as a judicial officer, adding that it was “empowered by its supervisory and regulatory roles to investigate the conduct of the respondent (the judge) as a judicial officer.”
It maintained that it was empowered “to set up investigatory panels to investigate the conduct of the Respondent as a judicial officer.”
It added, “Calling the respondent to appear before such an investigatory panel of the first appellant is required by the rules of natural justice. Appearing before the investigatory panel of the first appellant is not a call for the respondent to prove his innocence.”
It argued that the trial court “misdirected itself by not finding that the respondent’s action was premature.”
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