Judiciary and the Court's Contempt

Contempt of court could be described as a conduct which tends to bring disrespect, scorn or disrepute to the authority or administration of the law or which tends to interfere with or prejudice litigants and their witnesses in the course of litigation.

The Contempt of Court Act 1981 was enacted following a decision of European Court of Human Rights that English Contempt law contravened Article 10 of the convention. It was intended to give greater protection to freedom of speech. the Act introduced a strict liability rule. the strict liability rule indicates that conduct tending to interfere with course of justice, particularly legal proceedings, may be treated as a contempt of court regardless of whether there was any intent to interfere. When the contempt laws are not used when the law is breached, it only discredits the law as whole. Like the public show of disdain for a subsisting judgement of a court of law by the Minister of Sports Bolaji Abdullahi. Nigerians are waiting or rather expecting the law of contempt to be used. because of the judgement of the Federal High Court, Abuja, in suit No. FHC/ABJ/CS/179/2010 of 20th January 2012, confirming the illegality of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) and its lack of authority to run any aspect of football in Nigeria. Although the Minister’s comments on media has shown his lack of respect for the court of law. in his words. “…. the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) that has the primary responsibility and authority to manage football in Nigeria has delegated the power to do so in the league to the league management company ….. The NFF is the overall governing body of football in Nigeria……” a body the court considers illegal the minister declares the overall governing body, it is ironic, in a country he declares should be guided by the rules. the more the self-government of Nigeria becomes a reality the more relevant is the question of the law of contempt of court.

Under Nigeria laws contempt of court is a punishable offence. under S. 133 criminal code the offence of contempt carries a maximum imprisonment for 3 months. contempt of court is punished by attachment or committal and the procedures for these are well known.

In Ededuwa & Anor V. State (1975) A All NLR 31 Pg 1. The appellants were parties to a civil case before Justice Atake, they wrote a letter though the registrar of the High Court asking him to bring to the attention of his lordship their fear about his ability to try the case without bias, because His Lordship was from Itshekiri as their opponents.

Secondly they were worried that since the opponents were trustees of Itsehekiri land board and the judge was a beneficiary of that trust it will be difficult for them to be treated justly. The judge convicted them for contempt, on appeal, the appeal court said the letter was grossly contemptuous to the court.

In Atake V. President of Federal Republic of Nigeria (1982) 11 S.C. 153. here Senator Atake asked for transfer of his case, he suggested in his request that the judge was not likely to do just in the proceedings since he received a gratification from Mr. President, in the form of a National honour (ie OFR). he withdraw the statement when asked to do so by the court, eventually, when ruling was delivered in favour of Mr. President. he filed an appeal in his affidavit in support of notice for leave to appeal, he set out three grounds of appeal, one of which repeated the implication of bias against the judge. On the day his application for leave to appeal came for consideration the judge saw it for the first time and reacted as follows:

Judge: Senator Atake 1 call on you to withdraw ground

1 of your proposed ground of appeal, I consider it an insult to this court, I give you 5 minutes to do it.

Senator Akake: You upset me, I have the right to file my grounds of appeal. Atake was committed for contempt, he appealed to the court of appeal and eventually to the Supreme court and the Supreme court held that every insult offered to the judge in the exercise of his duty is a contempt and is even more grievous contempt where the object is to taint the source of justice. It  is worthy to note here that it is not every act of discourtesy to the court that amounts to contempt but with the catalogue of cases mentioned above my sincere prayer is that history repeats itself and the Minister of Sports be brought to book for his contemptuous act.

 

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