Legal Practitioner, Inibehe Effiong, has declared that the Supreme Court did not err in setting aside the conviction of former Abia Governor, Orji Uzor Kalu.
The court based its verdict on the grounds that Justice Mohammed Idris, who convicted Kalu and others had been elevated to the Court of Appeal before the judgment and returned to the lower court to deliver the judgment.
In his reaction, the legal practitioner said he had always maintained the view that it is unconstitutional for a judge of the Federal High Court who has been elevated to the Court of Appeal to continue to sit over cases at the Federal High Court.
He observed that as rightly held by the apex court, Section 396 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) which empowered the President of the Court of Appeal to give fiat to elevated federal judges to continue to hear and determine part-heard cases is in conflict with the Constitution.
Effiong said: “The hierarchy of courts is a constitutional creation. The moment Justice Idris subscribed to his oath of office as a Justice of the Court of Appeal, his office/former oath as a judge of the Federal High Court became extinct in law. A judicial officer can’t function in two courts.
“This has been my position all along. The Supreme Court has only affirmed Section 1 (1) and (3) of the 1999 Constitution which renders any other law that is inconsistent with the provisions of the Constitution void. This judgment is about the supremacy of the Constitution.
“Since Justice Idris did not have jurisdiction to continue to sit over the case, the conviction of Kalu and his co-defendants was null and void. Note that the Supreme Court did not pronounce on the guilt or innocence of Kalu and others. The Apex Court rightly ordered a fresh trial.
“If Kalu is guilty, the judgment of the Supreme Court may just be a temporary reprieve; it might be a postponement of the evil day for Kalu and his company, Sloks Nigeria Ltd. However, the judgment will impact on the ability of the prosecution to prove its case in a fresh trial.
“This case has been on for too long. Kalu at one point fought the prosecution up to the Supreme Court on technical points. The trial was stalled. By the time he lost his interlocutory appeal, a lot had changed, including the elevation of the trial judge to the Court of Appeal.
“The prosecution (EFCC) will have to begin afresh search for their witnesses. Some of them may have died or may have lost interest or may not remember what transpired with exactitude. The intention behind Section 396 of the ACJA was noble. But the Constitution is supreme.”