Chukwumerije Aja, Abuja

In every society, the judiciary plays a crucial role in securing domestic tranquility by providing a structured institutionalised forum for the resolution of discord and dispute and the vindication of civil and criminal wrong-doing. Indeed, the rule of law is believed to be essential in the creation, preservation and advancement of a civilised society.

The judiciary is therefore, the fulcrum for the protection of citizens from the wrong-doing of other citizens; the weak from the strong, and the powerless from the powerful, as well as individuals from unwarranted or unlawful exercise of power by the State.

In working to ensure that laws are applied to all in a fair, reasoned and understandable manner, courts instil confidence that allegiance to and reliance on the law and legal processes, are the cradle of hope for achieving the fullest measure of human justice, social harmony and progress.

Courts provide the framework within which individuals get protection, redress and resolution of disputes and conflicts that cannot otherwise be effectively and peacefully settled.

In reality, there exists to date economic, cultural, social and racial barriers to accessing the courts. In an increasingly complex society, the rising expense of litigation and the escalating consequences of criminal behaviour make it imperative to find constructive ways through which every individual, regardless of circumstances, is given their day in court. This is perhaps more so in emerging democracies where the common people need to feel that they are neither alienated nor excluded in access to justice, equity and fairness, which are the hallmarks of the judiciary.

The sustenance of democracy and democratic ethos depend on fairness and justice being seen to be done for all individuals and the community in general.

In furtherance of this principle, the judiciary must as a priority, decriminalise social misdemeanours, especially those exacerbated by political trends, growing populations and economic hardships.

Notwithstanding,  controls must be embedded to curb anti-social behaviour and isolate dangerous individuals. The human impact of diminishing social services should not stimulate the court to enlarge its capacity to punish, incarcerate and exclude. Alternative responses must be expanded, especially for the homeless and the mentally ill.

Similarly, arbitration platforms such as the family structures, religious institutions, schools boards and other community resources should be strengthened to avoid resorting to court interventions, except in criminal cases.

A reform of the jury system to ensure that jurors are sufficient and cut across diverse groups, will also ensure a preservation of and respect for the judiciary as the fulcrum of democracy and the best chance for human justice, freedom, social harmony, progress and happiness.

As the interpreter of democratically enshrined laws, the judiciary in Nigeria must therefore, ensure that laws of the Constitution are not intentionally crafted, passed or misinterpreted to favour any individual or group.

The Judiciary must continue to remain the last bastion of hope for all.