The ECOWAS Court has awarded 50 (fifty naira) as nominal damage to a former judge of the high court of Nigeria’s Federal Capital Territory for the violation of his right to fair hearing while undergoing disciplinary investigation for judicial misconduct by the country’s National Judicial Council, the body responsible for the supervision of judicial officers.
Delivering judgment in the suit brought by Justice S.E. Aladetoyinbo, a panel of three judges of the Court presided by Justice Edward Amoako Asante agreed with the plaintiff that the composition of the committee that conducted the disciplinary investigation was irregular, thus incompetent and its decision being null and void as it violates the Applicant’s right to fair hearing.
In awarding damages, the judge rapporteur for the case, Justice Dupe Atoki who read the Judgment acknowledged that the right of Justice Aladetoyinbo to fair hearing was violated, but the Applicant did not provide evidence of the prejudice suffered and decided that “Where an applicant has established a violation of his/her rights but fails to prove that the ensuing prejudice or harm/injury, the Court will award only nominal damages which is usually a symbolic token to recognize violation of the said right.”
The Court therefore awarded him the sum of N50 (fifty Nigerian Naira) against the Respondent for the violation of his right to fair hearing.
However, the Court declined the Applicant’s request for an order for the Respondent the Federal Republic of Nigeria, to issue an apology to the Applicant through the NJC while other reliefs sought in numbers 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 were refused on the grounds that they are ‘outside the competence of the Court as making the orders will amount to sitting on appeal over the decision of the NJC.”
On the allegation of torture, after examining the elements of torture, the Court said it came to the ‘inevitable conclusion that the act of the Respondent in publishing the warning letter does not meet the criteria for torture and thus holds that the right of the Applicant to be free from torture was not violated by the Respondent.
The Court also directed the Chief Registrar to assess other costs due.
In suit nos ECW/CCJ/APP/27/18 filed before the Court on 14 June 2018 by Applicant’s counsel, Mr K.C. Muoemeka, the Applicant claimed that his fundamental rights to freedom from torture was violated as a result of the publication of a letter of warning issued to him by the NJC and his right to fair hearing because the Committee was irregularly composed and incompetent.
He alleged that following a judgment he delivered, the dissatisfied judgment debtor wrote a petition against him to the NJC, the Respondent’s agency responsible for appointment, promotion and discipline of judicial officers, who constituted a committee whose proceedings were marred by irregularities but nevertheless issued him a warning in addition to placing him on a judicial watch list for nine months.
The Applicant added that the actions of the Respondent through its agent has traumatised and demoralised him and also destroyed his integrity, respect, honour and good name built over three decades of unblemished service to the Respondent.
He sought orders of the Court setting aside the letter of warning, the payment of 855,625,000 Nigerian Naira (eight hundred and fifty-five million, six hundred twenty-five thousand naira) as general damages, another 12,230,750 Naira (twelve million, two hundred and thirty thousand, seven hundred and fifty naira) as cost of litigation as well as a formal apology, among others.
On their part, the Respondent’s Counsel, Mr. Ibrahim Hassan raised a preliminary objection challenging the jurisdiction of the Court to hear the matter and contended that the plaintiff was accorded fair hearing and that the committee was properly constituted.
The Respondent exonerated its agency, NJC, of wrongdoing and urged the Court to dismiss the matter.
Also on the panel was Justice Gberi-Be Ouattara.
▪︎ Report courtesy of ECOWAS