CJN’s repeated advice to judges to ignore public opinion in deciding cases worrying—Okutepa, SAN


Respected member of the inner bar, Chief Jibrin Samuel Okutepa, SAN has described as worrying the serial advice by the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Olukayode Ariwoola to serving judges in the country to ignore public opinions in deciding cases that come before them.

Okutepa, SAN who tackled the CJN on what appears to be a new policy statement for the judiciary, said he believes that public opinion should matter to the judiciary in judicial decisions, being a barometer to measure the legitimacy of the judiciary institution.

BAR & BENCH WATCH reports that the CJN had on Monday, during a workshop organized by the Court of Appeal, cautioned judicial officers against succumbing to public opinions, emotions, or sentiments in the performance of their duties.

Justice Ariwoola had at every opportunity available, in recent times, while interfacing with the public, counselled judges against succumbing to public opinion.

Dissatisfied Okutepa on Tuesday, in a thought-provoking response, listed six reasons to disagree with the CJN on the issue.

His full statement on the issue reads:


For quite sometime now, the Hon Chief Justice of Nigeria, Hon Justice Olukayode Ariwoola, GCON has at every opportunity in public functions argued and made conclusions that the judiciary in Nigeria should not be bothered and influenced by public opinion in judgments.

I have had anxious moments in understanding his lordship on this point.

The Nigerian judiciary is set up to serve the public. The consumers of justice in Nigeria are the Nigerian public. The Nigerian populace are the stakeholders in the administration of Justice. They are partners in ensuring that judgments and judicial institutions are responsible and respected.

With profound respect to his lordship, I do not agree with his position that public opinions should not matter to the judiciary in judicial decisions. Public opinions should, and it must matter to the judiciary in judicial determinations. It will be a grave tragedy to ignore and underrate public opinion in this 21st century.

The reason for disagreeing with the views of his lordship is not too difficult to comprehend.

It must be understood that the judiciary plays a vital role in upholding the rule of law and ensuring that justice is served. That being the case, it is my first humble view and submission that when courts ignore public opinion, the judiciary risks undermining the very foundation of the justice system.

Secondly, public opinion serves as a vital feedback mechanism, providing insights into the perceived fairness and effectiveness of the justice system. Ignoring public opinion can have far-reaching consequences, thus eroding trust and confidence in the legal system. After all, justice is rooted in confidence, and confidence is destroyed when the public begins to think that the judiciary is compromised.

Thirdly, when courts disregard public opinion, they create a perception that the justice system is out of touch with the people it serves. This can lead to a decline in trust and confidence in the legal system, causing individuals to question the impartiality and fairness of the judiciary. As trust erodes, the public may become less likely to cooperate with the justice system, leading to decreased reporting of crimes, reduced witness testimony, and lower conviction rates.

Fourthly, ignoring public opinion can create a perception that the justice system is not responsive to the needs and concerns of the people, particularly in electoral jurisprudence where the people are equally interested in the outcome of litigation.This can lead to increased feelings of injustice, resentment, and anger among the public.

When the justice system is seen as unresponsive, individuals may take matters into their own hands, leading to vigilantism and extrajudicial punishments.

The fifth reason is that the judiciary’s legitimacy is rooted in its ability to reflect the values and principles of the society it serves. When courts ignore public opinion, they risk appearing out of touch and disconnected from the society the judiciary is meant to serve. This can lead to decreased legitimacy, undermining the authority and credibility of the judiciary as it appears to be the perception of the public in Nigeria.

The sixth reason is that ignoring public opinion can also influence judicial decision-making, leading to a disconnect between legal precedents and social values. Judges may become isolated from the concerns and needs of the society, making decisions that are not in line with societal expectations. This can result in miscarriage of justice, further eroding trust, and confidence in the legal system.

In my view and with profound respect, ignoring public opinion in administering justice can have severe consequences, including erosion of trust and confidence, increased perception of injustice, decreased legitimacy, and impaired judicial decision-making. It is crucial for the judiciary to engage with public opinion, acknowledging the concerns and values of the society it serves. By doing so, the justice system can maintain its legitimacy, ensure fairness and impartiality, and uphold the rule of law.

To think that public opinion does not matter in judicial administration and decisions of the judiciary is with respect engaging in conduct that may be inimical to the very survival of justice system and effective justice administration that serve the best interest of the people.

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