An effective judiciary guarantees fairness in legal processes. It’s a powerful weapon against corruption. But people’s experiences in courts across the country are often far from fair. In some instances, most people in contact with the courts face demands for bribes. Their payments total staggering amounts. Court efficiency is crucial. A backlog of cases creates opportunities for demanding bribes to fast-track a case. Often court personnel are paid to slow down or speed up a trial, or dismiss a complaint.
As human beings, Judges can bribe or be bribed, or they can suffer pressure from above. If politicians abuse their power, they can influence decisions and distort appointment processes.
Against this backdrop, people are often unaware of their rights. Or worse still, countless negative experiences can simply resign them to their fate before a corrupt court
Therefore, the existence of corruption in the judiciary remains a daunting challenge in Nigeria as in many other countries. The pervasiveness of corruption in the judiciary and the legal profession, whether one off or endemic, is very worrying because it directly undermines the rule of law and the ability of the judiciary to guarantee the protection of human rights.
A judiciary that is not independent can easily be corrupted or co-opted by interests other than those of applying the law in a fair and impartial manner. Strengthening the judiciary from within, as well as providing all the safeguards for its independence vis-à-vis other public officials and private actors, is essential in combating and preventing instances of judicial corruption.
Furthermore, it must be noted that judicial corruption has a strong potential for victimizing those who do not have the means to play by the informal rules set by a corrupt system because corruption in the judiciary discourages people from resorting to the formal justice system, thereby diverting dispute settlements towards informal systems that more than often do not abide by the basic principles of impartiality, fairness, non-discrimination and due process.
Whenever suspicion or evidence of acts of corruption arises, there should be effective mechanisms of accountability to deal with them. Such mechanisms should be developed with the full participation and consent of the actors concerned. They should not be used for groundless attacks against the independence of the justice system.
We strongly believe that the existing international principles and standards on human rights and corruption provide adequate guidance on how to tackle judicial corruption while respecting the independence of the justice system and human rights.
Besides combating corruption from within the judiciary, judges, prosecutors and lawyers are in a unique position to tackle the wider phenomenon of corruption in other instances of the public and private sectors. The existing anti-corruption bodies should be made to effectively assist judicial actors to combat corruption and to implement and strengthen transparency within the public sector.
In addition, we urge federal and state governments to place the independence of judges, prosecutors and lawyers at the centre of their policies to prevent and fight corruption and strengthen the rule of law and human rights in Nigeria.