Bailiffs: A look at their roles in justice administration | Independent Newspapers Limited
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Bailiffs: A look at their roles in justice administration

Posted: Apr 9, 2015 at 3:20 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

The Bailiffs Section is a critical component of the judiciary. As a matter of fact, a court of law cannot effectively adjudicate on cases without the input of that section. Basically, a Bailiff is an officer, similar to sheriff or a sheriff’s deputy, employed to execute writs and processes, make arrests and keep order in the court, both within the premises and in the courtroom, and so on. But how far has this critical section delivered on its mandate? Senior Correspondent, TUNDE OPESEITAN reports.

The Nigerian judiciary, no doubt, has contributed, and still contributing immensely to the maintenance of order in the society. It has greatly helped to deepen democracy and the judiciary is indeed the last hope of the common man. But just like in every other sector, the judiciary has had and still has its fair share of the myriad of problems confronting the nation. The Bailiffs’ section is equally having its share of the problems confronting the judicial sector. For instance, due to the lack of adequate funding of the judiciary, the Bailiffs’ Section is affected and as such, often times, this section is not adequately able to undertake its critical duty of executing writs and processes, which is the condition-precedent for the commencement of a matter in court.

This assertion has been well established by plethora of stakeholders in the judiciary, who have at different fora, advocated the need to properly fund the judiciary.

For instance, former Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Aloma Mukhtar, while in office, as the head of the nation’s judiciary, made passionate appeals to President Goodluck Jonathan to jerk up the budgetary allocation to the judiciary.

Speaking at the swearing-in ceremony of new Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs) in Abuja, which also marked the commencement of the 2013 to 2014 legal year, the CJN lamented: “Over the years, funding of the courts has remained a challenge as evidenced in the condition of many courts in Nigeria today. Statistics have shown that funding from the Federal Government has witnessed a steady decline since 2010, from N95 billion (in that year to N85 billion in 2011, then N75 billion in 2012 and dropped again in the 2013 budget to N67 billion.

“Indeed with this amount, if the amount allocated to the extra-judicial organisations within the judiciary is deducted, the courts are left with a paltry sum to operate.

“The simple implication is that our courts are increasingly finding it difficult to effectively perform their day to day constitutional roles.

“The resultant effect of a slim budget in the judiciary is that a number of courts in Nigeria today evince decay and neglect of infrastructural amenities particularly at the state level. In some cases, the court buildings do not possess the required well-equipped library for judges to conduct their research. This may make judges rely on information supplied by lawyers which should not be the case.”

Already, some of the Bailiffs are capitalising on the issue to justify their disdain for work without gratification.

It is a common knowledge that lawyers pay to ‘mobilise’ bailiffs to effect service of court processes, aside the official fees paid to the court. Any lawyer that knows his or her onions today in Nigeria, will not sit down expecting Bailiffs to effect service of processes on the opposing side without mobilisation.

The other issue, according to investigation, is that some judges have unwittingly endorsed this illegality by openly asking in the courtroom whether the Bailiffs have been mobilised to effect service. Since the court is a court of record, a judge will not go on with any case once there is no proof of service in the court file, and this ugly trend has indeed frustrated many promising cases.

A judge of the Federal High Court in Lagos, Justice Ibrahim Buba, recently lamented the unethical activities of the Bailiffs, and advised that a drastic measure be urgently put in place to correct the ugly trend in the overall interest of the judiciary.

In fact, a visibly irked Justice Buba, who detected foul play while adjudicating over a matter, had to summon the Deputy Chief Registrar of the Court in charge of Administration, Bello Okandeji to explain in the open court what was going on with respect to unholy attitude of the Bailiffs.

Okandeji, in turn, equally lamented the attitude of some of the bailiffs, explaining that as a preventive measure, the management of the court had explained to them repeatedly the need to be dedicated to work. He said oftentimes, some of the Bailiffs are rotated and drastic measures regularly taken against the unrepentant elements within the section.

On his part, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Norrison Quakers, said the best way out of the quagmire is the total overhaul of the system.

“You see, my take on the issue is that until we learn to be transparent, until we learn to be trustworthy, we will still continue to talk about this mess. Money meant for someone should be given to the person. I mean, why do we (lawyers) give them (Bailiffs) money? It is not right, but because we don’t want our jobs to suffer, we even make available our vehicles to effect service. You can’t sit back and wait for the system. What I’m saying is that what is fair is fair, some of these guys are not adequately treated by the court in terms of what they give them to carry out their job, and as such, the issue must be comprehensively addressed.

“They should be paid the reasonable before we can think of sanctioning them when they err. That is my take,” Quakers stressed.

Another lawyer, who does not want to be named, however agreed that the excesses of the bailiffs must be urgently addressed.

According to him: “Do you know that after I got an order to arrest a vessel from the court, the bailiffs of this court asked for deposit of N100, 000 before they could go out to effect the arrest, after which we would still pay them. This was after we paid all the officials fees to the court. We had to pay them because we were running out of time as we were trying to avoid a situation where the vessel would move out of jurisdiction. So, in as much as the system is not adequately paying them… but while that is being addressed, the bailiffs must be made to change from their “disgraceful” action of always asking for money to do their job,” the lawyer submitted.

Another issue, which must also be addressed, according to Daily Independent investigation, is the usurpation of some of the duties of the Bailiffs. In a normal setting, the bailiffs are responsible for the maintenance of law and order within the court premises and inside the courtroom. But that role has been taken away from the Bailiffs in most of the courts, and contracted to private security firms. The heavy cost, being used to maintain the private security outfits, it has been argued, would go a long way to boost the activities of the bailiffs if channelled to their operation.