The Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen, has been conferred with the 2018 Michael Hill Prize for his reform agenda which had positively changed the workings of the nation’s Judiciary.
The award, according to a statement by the Senior Special Assistant to the CJN on Media, Awasam Bassey, was presented to Justice Onnoghen in Montreal, Canada by the International Society for the Reform of Criminal Law (ISRCL), an international non-governmental association of judges, legislators, lawyers, academics, police and corrections professionals at its 31st conference in Canada with the theme ”The Scourge of Trafficking in the 21st Century.”
While presenting the award, ISRCL President, Major General Greg Melick, described Justice Onnoghen as “a judges’ judge on account of his over 30 years devotion to the pursuit of justice” and a “leading light of the Nigerian Judiciary.”
ISRCL President said “Justice Onnoghen has been a leading light on the Nigerian Supreme Court, and the Nigerian Judiciary as a whole, central to the protection and stabilization of democracy, checking the near-sighted antics of do-or- die politicians. Cases like Amaechi vs INEC are cited as examples of the outside- the-box jurisprudence that saved Nigeria’s democracy.”
Specifically, Merlick said Justice Onnoghen had since his appointment as Chief Justice of Nigeria in November 2016, brought a lot of zeal and originality to judicial administration in the country through series of National Judicial Council committees and the launched Judicial Reform Programme already showing results.
He said: “One result that is exciting the populace is the apparent end to the stalemate in the prosecution of high-profile corruption cases.
“Cases are now reaching conclusion. This is evidenced by two recent high-profile convictions of two former state governors.”
Melick said the ISRCL had chosen Justice Onnoghen for the Michael Hill Medal Award because he is “an embodiment of the ideals and goals of the International Society for the Reform of Criminal Law.”
Responding, the Chief Justice of Nigeria called on criminal prosecutors in particular and lawyers in general to imbibe virtues of the late Michael Hill, who he described as “a relentless prosecutor, “a dogged defence counsel,” who “had a reputation for holding himself to the highest standards of professional conduct, dedication to duty and the pursuit of justice.”
While noting that Michael Hill operated in an era in which social media did not exist, Justice Onnoghen seized opportunity of the medium to warn against media trial which, he said could irredeemably destroy reputations.
He said: “The speed and reach of information dissemination are now astounding.
“Reputations and lives may be destroyed irretrievably in minutes. In the past, persons wrongly accused of crime and prosecuted could be discharged and acquitted, substantially absolved and free. Today, ”discharged and acquitted” may ring hollow in their ears, having been irreparably damaged by the publicity.
”As judges and lawyers, we have always realized the dangers inherent in media trials. We took various measures to curtail them.
“Technology has now taken it to a new perilous level. We now have social media trials too, much more insidious.
“Technology has enabled not just the dissemination of false news. Severely injurious information is involved. The degree to which evidence may be manipulated or falsified with audio visual media is astounding and dangerous. Many a citizen may be condemned, even by cautious courts, for his inability to afford what it takes to successfully challenge fabricated evidence. Successfully challenging that in the court of the public is much more herculean.”
The award ceremony was witnessed by participants from over 50 countries including a team of Justices from the Supreme Court of Nigeria and Chief Judges of states.
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