How Delta Judiciary Fared In 2016/2017 Legal Year -Delta CJ, UmukoroThe

THE 2017/2018 Legal Year of the Delta State Judiciary effectively began on November 13, 2017, with a package of ceremonial activities, including a Christian religious service.
At the formal ceremony for the commencement of the 2017/2018 Legal Year in the state, the State Chief Judge, Hon. Justice Marshal Umukoro, seized the opportunity to publicly render account-as it were-as to how well the judiciary in the state, under his watch as Chief Judge, fared in the preceding year (2016/2017).
Like a mason exfoliating a scaffold, Hon. Justice Umukoro, graphically dissected the performance of the third arm of government for the benchmark year before a motley crowd of dignitaries that included the Governor of Delta State, Senator Ifeanyi Okowa and the echelon of the state judiciary and justice system. In sum, the broad specifics of the presentation of the State Chief Judge can be profiled under the following major headings:
With regard to the judgments of the Delta State High Court upheld in the last legal year, Hon. Justice Umukoro put the tally at 53. The huge number of the upheld judgments in one single year attests to the devotion, transparency and competency of the state judiciary.
During the period under review, Hon. Justice Umukoro said that while two magistrates were appointed, 654 promotions effected and 51 conversions made; there were also three harmonisations.
Under the broad heading of training, CJ Umukoro disclosed that 40 officers attended several workshops and seminars; 24 had study leave, 74 underwent part time training programmes and four others had in-service training. The outline of the workshops in which the judges participated showed that a galaxy of officers attended a miscellany of relevant and strategic trainings to enhance their professional skills and competency. As for the judges, so also for the magistrates, who also within the period attended, at least, 11 different training workshops for skill/competency enhancement, The workshops were both onshore and offshore.
By the credible account of the CJ, the Delta State judiciary, within the year under consideration also did well with regard to its basic responsibility of delivering justice. Apart from the marginal increase in from 31 to 32 in the number of High Court Bench, CJ Umukoro equally had a mouthful of positive account to render regarding the performance of the judiciary in other related aspects.
His words, “ The High Court Bench literally shrank back to its former size with the exit of Hon. Justice I. E. Okongwu in February 2017 after a meritorious service. Plans are at an advanced stage to fill the vacancies on the High Court Bench for which approval had long been given. On the lower bench, the operational platform was enlarged with the addition of magistrates Court, Okpokunu in Burutu local government area and Magistrates Court in Igbodo,” Ika North-East local government area, “thus bringing the magisterial districts to a total of 71, with over 107 magistrates.”
He added that, “ with respect to case disposal, the High Court Bench disposed of about 7, 532 cases out of a total of 24, 116 cases pending as at the beginning of the 2015/2016 legal year, with about 40 convictions during the period, while at the lower echelon of the bench, a total of about 3, 717 cases were disposed out of 6, 672 cases pending as at the close of 2015/2016 legal year. Out of the above figure, a total of 220 convictions were made during the period.”
Efforts at recovering internally-generated revenue by the Revenue Court yielded a successful disposal of 2, 986 cases out of the 4, 374 cases as at the beginning of the legal year 2017/2018.
The state government, acting through the state judiciary, also created courts devoted exclusively to the creation of hearing and determination of criminal cases in the High Court system. Geographically, the criminal jurisdiction courts span the three senatorial districts of the state. Specifically, the designated courts are High Courts 4 and 5, Asaba (for Delta North); High Courts 2 and 3, Effurun (for Delta Central) and High Courts 3 and 4, Warri, (for Delta South district).
The Customary Court system, which is an integral part of the judiciary, also had a good outing in the state during the period under consideration. While the Customary Court of Appeal disposed of 98 cases and the Area Customary Courts disposed of 10, 834 cases, the District Customary Courts dispensed of 1, 250 cases.
CJ Umukoro said that in order to create enhanced public awareness of the activities of the state judiciary, “the Protocol Department has been reporting the outcome of selected criminal cases in both print and electronic media for the information of the general public..”
In the exercise of the powers inherent in his office and as a testimony to his desire to decongest the prisons in the state, CJ Umukoro, in the course of the legal year, held prison visits in the course of which he reviewed a total of 5, 410 awaiting trial cases and, on the basis of his sound professional judgment, released 183 awaiting trial inmates, 100 were granted bail and five referred to the Uselu Psychiatric hospital, for medical evaluation.
The Law on the Administration of Criminal Justice was passed in the state on March 15, 2017, and was signed into law by Governor Okowa on September19, 2017.
Describing the development as elating, CJ Umukoro said that “Very early next year, a workshop shall be mounted to bring together all stakeholders to address the issues therefrom and copies of the legislation shall soon be distributed to judges, magistrates and Revenue Court judges. For the criminal jurisdictions sitting in Asaba, Warri and Effurun, the respective judges shall arrange to sit in court other than their present stations within their divisions. For example, the judge sitting in Asaba may sit in Agbor to hear and determine cases arising from that axis of dates fixed by him. Delta State has now joined the Justice Sector Reform Team. Hon. Justice Okolosi is our able representative in that regard”
Delta State also participated in a two-day technical session to review the draft National Policy on Justice at which Hon. Justice Azinge was its representative.
Though internal revenue generation is not a basic function of the judiciary, the nature of its activities occasionally makes it earn some revenue for the public purse, via fines, fees and sales of proceedings. This happens at the various levels of jurisdiction and also at the probate division.
At the occasion of the opening ceremony of the 2017/2018 legal year, CJ Umukoro said that through fees, fines and sales of proceedings, the High Court generated N219, 246, 681.05 during the period under consideration through fines, fees and sales of proceedings.
The Magistrates Court Department, on its own, just as the Department of Probate, also via the same subheads, generated fairly handsome revenue for the state government, same as the Customary Court of Appeal, the Area and District Customary Courts, all of which yielded an N81, 84, 425.22
In order to consolidate the work environment for judicial officers, the CJ said that “the vehicles to be allocated to the five additional judges to be appointed are already in our stable. UmukoroThe Building and Maintenance Department is in receipt of the consignment of five Peugeot 508 cars.”
In the area of core infrastructure, the state judiciary, within the period under consideration, also had an encouraging performance, in spite of the persisting economic recession, going by the disclosures of CJ Umukoro. The efforts in this regard include the completion/ renovation judges quarters 2 and 3 in Asaba; judges quarters 1 and 2 in Agbor; on-going construction of magistrates court, Agbor; renovation of High Court buildings in Bomadi as well as the purchase and distribution of six power packs, popularly called electricity generators, to High Courts; the purchase and distribution of five desktop computers and five printers to judges and the provision of a laptop for the Protocol Department.
In response to the sheer volume and complexity of cases before the courts, the Delta State Judiciary has adopted the Alternative Dispute Resolution strategy, under the multi-door courthouse canopy. In the year under review, the ADR strategy was hugely deployed to great effect in the resolution of disputes. Since 2015 when it was introduced and deployed by the judiciary in the state, CJ Umukoro said that the Multi- Door Courthouse “entertained over two hundred cases in Mediation and Arbitration, out of which 88 cases have been successfully disposed of.”
In the outgone year, the state Chief Judge, Hon. Justice Marshal Umukoro, was elevated by appointment into the National Judicial Council (NJC).
This was how the CJ himself put out the development at the ceremony for the formal opening of the 2017/2018 legal year in the state. “In the outgoing legal year, the Chief Judge was appointed into the National Judicial Council (NJC). Believe it or not, it is an eye opener and inspiring to sit with the great names and minds in the nation’s judicial firmament. The National Judicial Council (NJC) is charged with the recommendation of the appointment and discipline of judges in Nigeria. It is also burdened with the task of setting policies for the guidance of all judges in Nigeria.”
The alluring development inherent in this appointment, though a personal achievement of the CJ, it is also a huge affirmation of the high esteem in which not only the person and office of the CJ is held ,but is stoutly symbolic of the credibility which the state judiciary currently enjoys in the comity of its peers.
But that is not all.
Flowing from the CJ’S appointment into the NJC, the council, convinced about the inviolability of the integrity of the Delta State CJ, named him into the committee on “Corruption and Financial Crimes Cases Trial Monitoring.” That committee comprises 16 members and a chairman and is saddled with responsibility for monitoring and regularly evaluating the progress and activities of courts designated to try corruption and financial/economic crimes cases; advising the NJC on strategies for enhanced monitoring and evaluation of the performance of designated courts for greater efficiency; advising on training and retraining and other refresher programmes for judges and staff of designated courts as well as advising on practice directions for approval by the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) to be applicable in all such designated courts.
During the one year spanning September 2016 and 2017, several Deltans , into the law profession,were made Notaries Public. They are Omorhomuhi Lawrence Omughelli; Augustine Obukohwo Ajineh; Ikechukwu Ogbonna; Onajite Endurance Ohwarhua and Ekpuda Ayemere Emmanuel, all Esquires.