The Use of Jury in Nigeria’s Judicial System By Ismaeel Ahmed
I read sometimes ago that at a point in time in Nigeria, the use of jury system was contemplated , perhaps even adopted in some cases similar to the practice in the USA. I still don’t know if that is true because I have not independently verified it. However, whether it has ever been contemplated or not, I think the time has come for the judicial system to adopt this practice at least in some cases. There is a difference between judgments and justice, and the latter is the whole essence of having a judiciary. To ensure that laws that are in place to protect society and its inhabitants, also guarantees some sort of moral order that is being reinforced by statutory laws for the peaceful coexistence in the society. Any negation of this basic tenet makes the existence of a “judge” sitting on a bench to adjudicate over a matter by virtue of a constituted authority given to him by willful submission of the people, completely unnecessary.
For the benefit of those who are not familiar with the legal jargon of what a jury is; a jury is a panel of ordinary and ‘reasonable’ citizens sworn to give verdict according to the factual evidence presented in a court of law. In cases where there is a jury, the job of the judge is to guide them on points of law and they should decide on points of fact. While a jury system evolved from the Common Law of the United Kingdom and is mostly attributed to criminal cases, in the US and Canada jury trials are common in civil cases as well.
In Nigeria however, there is no current practice of civil or criminal jury trials. What we have are bench trials at every level; where the judge or judges have the final say on both facts and points of law in a matter before them.
As a lawyer and a citizen, I find the practice of having one man authorised with such awesome powers of being the moral fabric of society quite disconcerting. The sentiments of a single judge or his moral compass and rectitude go a long way in determining the likely outcome of his verdict. A jury trial may not completely eliminate such trivialities and potential compromises, but it will greatly mitigate it.
The normal criticism of a jury trial in Nigeria is the sentimental nature of our citizens, the fear that most decisions would be made through the prism of religion, ethnicity or region. But the jury trial is usually anchored with enough checks and balances to ensure a fair and just verdict. The lawyers get to scrutinise the jurors one by one. The basic test of reason ability would have to be passed, and most importantly the decision should be unanimous. This reduces the possibility of foul play in a justice system.
With the level of corruption in the Nigerian judicial system, maybe having ordinary people see facts for what they are and be guided by the provisions of the law by a judge who is supposedly learned, is another way of slowing, if not halting the downward spiral of the system of adjudication in this country. Like the late great Nigerian lawyer, Rotimi Williams once said “Law is 75 per cent common sense” and I add “justice should be 100 per cent common”.
Barr. Ismaeel Ahmed holds a Law Degree (LL.B) from University of Abuja, a Master of Arts Degree in International Relations and Diplomacy from Webster University, St. Louis, Missouri, United States of America.
Ahmed also holds a Masters of Law (LLM) from the University of Chicago, USA. He is a lawyer and a politician. He is currently the chairman of the All Progressives Youth Forum (APYF), a Youth body under the newly registered APC.
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