The House of Representatives on Tuesday, passed for second reading a Bill seeking an amendment to Section 1 of the Principal Act to increase the number of the judges at the Court of Appeal from 90 to 150 to expedite justice dispensation and decrease the workload of judges.
Presently, the extant laws provided for 90 justices nationwide.
The Bill is also seeking an amendment to section 1 of the Principal Act by inserting a new subsection 2 to give power to the President of the Court to create new division of the court as situation dictates.
The bill further calls for a new subsection 3 to insert into section 1 of the Principal Act to provide for a minimum of six justices in judicial divisions of the court in order to accelerate hearing and determination of cases.
The proposed legislation titled “A Bill for an Act to Amend the Court of Appeal Act, Cap. C36, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004 to Increase the Number of Justices of the Court and Provide for Appointment of a Minimum of Six
Justices in every Judicial Division of the Court for Speedy and Efficient Justice Delivery and to Improve Citizens’ Access to Justice; and for Related Matters,” is sponsored by Hon. Onofiok Luke.
Leading the debate on its general principles, Luke lamented that the current number has become grossly inadequate, resulting to slow dispensation of justice by the courts.
He said: “The Court of Appeal is the intermediate court between the High Court (including other subordinate courts and tribunals) and the Supreme Court. Established in 1976, the court had only three judicial divisions. The divisions of the court have now grown to 20. Some of the new divisions were commissioned in 2020. The law perches the maximum number of justices of the court at 90. This number has become inadequate given the recent creation of the new divisions of the court – Kano, Gombe, Awka, Asaba, etc. There is a high increase in the volume of cases attended to by the court, which of course has necessitated the creation of the new divisions.
As a matter of fact, judicial divisions of the court with huge volume of cases like Abuja and Lagos ought to have a minimum of nine justices so that the divisions can have three panels sitting simultaneously. It is necessary to note that it is this same inadequate pool of justices of the Court of Appeal that are drawn to sit in Election Appeal Tribunals, thereby compounding delay in justice delivery. Owing to the inadequate number of justices in the court, cases stay in the docket for undesirable long period of time.”
The Bill was unanimously supported by the lawmakers when put to voice vote by the Speaker, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila.