Criminal matters in FCT courts remain suspended- Bello

By Daniel Tyokua

The chief judge of the Federal Capital Territory high court, Ishaq Usman Bello, has directed that all criminal matters in FCT courts should remain suspended until further notice.

Chief justice of Nigeria (CJN), Ibrahim Muhammad had in March, ordered all courts in the country to suspend judicial activities in order to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

However, in April, courts were allowed to hear only cases that were considered urgent or time bound.

In a statement at the weekend, Bello said all courts in the FCT must resume regular sitting with effect from today Monday, May 11.

The FCT chief judge in his new practice directions on how proceeding should be carried out, said safety measures must be strictly adhered to.

“The honourable judges and learned magistrates shall ensure the strict observance and enforcement of the rules of physical distancing and the wearing of face masks by court staff, counsel, litigants and all persons inside the courtroom and/or within the precincts of the court,” he said.

“Every litigant or group of litigants suing or being sued together in a cause or matter shall be represented by not more than one counsel in the courtroom. Where the rules of the legal profession or other exigency make it imperative for counsel to appear with another counsel, then only one junior counsel shall be led in the cause or matter.”

Bello added that criminal matters that require the presence of defendants in prison custody would be suspended until further notice.

“In order to avoid a situation where traffic in and out of correctional Centres (prisons) may catalyse the spread of COVID-19 to inmates, hearing in criminal matters requiring the production of defendants in custody is hereby suspended until further notice,” Bello said.

“Other criminals indicate in advance the sequence and specific time for hearing cases on the cause list in order to avoid the convergence of counsel and parties in the courtroom from the beginning of the day’s proceedings.

“The court shall allot time for each party to present his or her case, taking into consideration the peculiarities of each case.

“In all cases (whether criminal or civil), only the parties and their counsel shall be allowed into the courtroom, subject to a maximum number of ten (ten) persons (excluding court officials) at any given time. In representative actions or other matters with multiple parties, only one representative shall be allowed.

“The honourable judges and learned magistrates shall keep to the barest minimum the number of staff/clerks working with them in the courtroom.

“In addition to observing social distancing and wearing of face masks, all court officials are advised to wash their hands with soap, apply recommended hand sanitizers regularly and comply with all advisories issued by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC).

“The honourable the chief Judge may review this practice direction and/or issue further directives as prevailing circumstances may render expedient or necessary.”

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