Court Of Appeal Not A Trial Court, ACN Warns


The Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) has urged the National Assembly to take another look  at the Amended Electoral Act 2010 to stop the plan to use the Court of Appeal as the  court of first instance in presidential and gubernatorial election petitions, as  contained in the Amended Electoral Act.

In a statement issued in Lagos yesterday by its National Publicity Secretary, Alhaji Lai  Mohammed, the party reminded the National Assembly that the Court of Appeal is never a  trial court anywhere in the world, and hence must not be saddled with such responsibility  in the case of election petitions.

It said even if all the positions in the Court of Appeal are filled, the court cannot  have more than 70 judges.

“Assuming all 70 judges are in place, which is not the case presently, the number can  only constitute election petition tribunals for only 14 states, going by the  constitutional stipulation of five members per panel. Even if the number is reduced to  three per panel, as has been suggested in some circles, we still won’t have enough judges  to go round more than 23 states.

‘’Apart from the number of panels that can be constituted, there is also the problem of  time limitation (180 days) regarding when petitions must be heard and judgements  delivered. If the deluge of election petitions that greeted the 2007 general elections is  anything to go by, there could be over a hundred petitions after the 2011 gubernatorial  polls alone, and the Court of Appeal cannot possible cope with this huge number of cases.

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“Needless to say that while the election petitions last, the ver-burdened Court of Appeal  will not be able to carry out its statutory function of hearing appeals from High Courts,  and this will have unimaginable implications for the country and her citizens.

ACN therefore called on the National Assembly to, as a matter of urgency, use the  opportunity provided by the widespread call for another amendment to the Amended  Electoral Act – in the wake of INEC’s demand for an extension of time for the 2011  elections – to take another look at the Act to prevent the Court of Appeal from becoming  the court of first instance for gubernatorial election petitions.

The party said the old system of using judges from the High Courts to constitute the  gubernatorial election panels must be retained.

It wondered what influenced the National Assembly to take such an inscrutable decision of  turning the Court of Appeal into a trial court for election petitions, and why the  assembly did not consult even the Court of Appeal or the nation’s legion of erudite  lawyers before taking such a decision

“Consultation with the Court of Appeal itself or an elementary knowledge of how the Court  of Appeal works would have shown our lawmakers that their proposition will over-burden  the judiciary at best and be downright unworkable at worst. It is unflattering to the  lawmakers that their position on such a crucial national issue is not well thought out.  But they have another chance to make amends, in the interest of our nation,’’ ACN said.

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