The total strike embarked upon by magistrates in magistrate’s courts in Lagos State has paralysed activities in the courts as cases to be heard were not attended to.

Over two weeks ago, the magistrates, under the aegis of magistrates’ Association of Nigeria, Lagos State branch, began a warning strike by adopting the work-to-rule but later suspended the strike after well meaning Nigerians intervened.

The magistrates decided to resume the strike when their demand for the validity of the Magistrates’ Court Law 2009 was not met by the Judicial Service Commission (JSC).

Several cases that were supposed to be heard at various magistrate courts in the state were not heard as magistrates shunned work in obedience to the association’s demand that its members embarked on strike.

At the Magistrate’s court , Yaba, activities were paralysed as magistrates did not report to work.

The association had in a statement yesterday announced the commencement of total strike pending the resolution of the suit challenging the validity of the Magistrates’ Court Law 2009.

The statement signed by the Chairman of the association, Mrs Christy Adeola-Ikpatt and the Secretary, Mrs. Kehinde Ogundare read that: “We refer to our earlier release dated 8 May, 2010, where we resolved to suspend our ongoing work-to-rule for a period of 10 days.

“Today, Wednesday, 19 May, 2010, our demands having not been met, we the magistrates in Lagos State hereby embark on an indefinite strike pending the resolution of the suit challenging the validity of the magistrates, Court Law 2009.”

The association observed that its decision to embark on strike was as a result of the difficulties its members “have been facing in discharging” their constitutional responsibilities of justice dispensation and adjudication since the 2009 magistracy was suspended.

The association explained that a Lagos High Court presided over by Justice Ishiatu Opesanya suspended the 2009 magistracy law and ordered reversal to the 2003 magistrate law, which was repealed before the State House of Assembly enacted the 2009 law.

The association said it obeyed the ruling of the court and returned to work, but counsels “have been challenging the jurisdiction of the magistrate’s courts arising from the vacuum the suspension of the 2009 magistracy law and abrogation of the 2003 law created.

“The court had suspended the Magistracy Court Law 2009. When the law came into force, the 2003 magistrate court law became defunct. And there is no law or act that says we can use a repealed law to discharge our responsibilities. We have not heard of any.

“The provision in Section 4 of the Interpretation Law of Lagos State is totally different. The section stipulates that a repealed law cannot be used to dispense justice if there is a new one in the making. But this is not the case. We have a case of a repealed law and suspended law. Now, technically, there is no magistrate court law,” it said.

According to them, “this law is the basis for the reforms in the magistracy. Without the 2009 Magistracy Court Law or any other one, we cannot do anything and there is no magistrate,” adding that the High Court does not have the power to resurrect  the 2003 law which was repealed by the State House of Assembly as its power is just to interpret the law and not to make law.

The association contended that after it suspended its warning strike, it wrote to the appropriate body to resolve the impasse, but noted that no reply was received, which informed its decision to down tool.

—Kazeem Ugbodaga