By Barr. Emperor Iwuala
From Monday the 12th to Wednesday14th of May 2014, magistrates in the South Eastern part of the country will be holding their Biennial Conference in Owerri. The venue of the conference will be City Global Hotels Port Harcourt Road, Owerri. The event is organized under the auspices of South East Magistrates Association of Nigeria.
The theme of this year’s conference is ‘The Contemporary Magistrate and the Need for a Paradigm Shift’. The Chief Judge of Imo State Hon. Justice B. A. Njemanze will be the Chairman of the event while the Governor of Imo State, Owelle Rochas Okorocha is the Special Guest of Honour.
The conference will feature key note addresses, lectures and talks from eminent jurists, dinners, visit to some places etc.
It could be re-called that the Magistrates Association of Nigeria was founded in 1970 with Magistrate S.M.A. Belgore who later became the Chief Justice of Nigeria as the first President of the Association. Membership of the association cuts across the nation the federation. The aims of the association inter-alia are to protect the privileges, rights and welfare of the magistrates in the country.
Incidentally, this conference is being hosted in Owerri at a time a Chief Magistrate from Imo State, Chief Magistrate Vickie Isiguzo is for the first time, the Vice President for the South East.
Indeed, Magistrate Courts are one of the nearest courts to the grass-root. Their powers are quite enormous. Most criminal cases are handled by magistrates. They also handle a lot of civil cases and perform other judicial and quasi-judicial functions.
However, it is regrettable that the country’s constitution excludes magistrates from the list of judicial officers.
Today, there are a lot of challenges confronting magistrates in the country and the South East in particular.
For example, it is up to 30 years now that the Magistrate Court Laws in the state was last amended. It may surprise one to know that in the state, criminal jurisdiction of a Chief Magistrate is 14 years or two thousand naira option of fine while that of a Magistrate Grade 1 is 5 years or =N400 option of fine.
Other challenges militating against magistrates in the zone include lack of court and personal security like police orderlies, anti-bomb detectors in courts, official vehicles, good accommodations, good working conditions, welfare packages, continuous legal education etc.
Undoubtedly, we are now in an age of information technology. Therefore, this year’s theme of the conference is also very apt. The magistrate cannot continue to operate with old models when everything around him has become digitalized and sophisticated.
Therefore, the conference in Owerri will be another opportunity to proffer solutions to the various challenges facing magistrates in the zone.
As we wish participants in the conference a successful and memorable event, it is also our prayer that the outing will be another opportunity for stakeholders in justice administration in the South East to come up with a better way of making the magistrate more efficient. This is because the court has continued to remain the last hope of the common man.
The Chief Judge of Imo State Hon. Justice B. A. Njemanze will be the Chairman of the event while the Governor of Imo State, Owelle Rochas Okorocha is the Special Guest of Honour.
It could be re-called that the Magistrates Association of Nigeria was founded in 1970 with Magistrate S.M.A. Belgore who later became the Chief Justice of Nigeria as the first President of the Association. Membership of the association cuts across the federation. The aims of the association inter-alia are to protect the privileges, rights and welfare of the magistrates in the country.
Interestingly, at the 2009 edition of the association’s National Convention in Abuja, the office of the National Vice Presidents for each Geopolitical Zone of the association was created. Incidentally, this conference is being held in Owerri at a time a magistrate from Imo State is for the first time the South East National Vice President.
(Iwuala is an Owerri based Legal Practitioner)