A Human Rights Group, Access to Justice (AJ) has called on the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court (FHC), Justice John Tsoho, to re-take full control of the court from the Department of State Services (DSS) and guarantee access to the trial of the detained leader of the proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Nnamdi Kanu.
In a statement signed by its Executive Director, Joseph Otteh, AJ maintained that the continuing reports alleging denial of access of Kanu’s lawyer and journalists to court by DSS operatives are very disturbing.
Otteh noted that courts are public institutions and are under the control of respective Heads of Courts.
The statement reads: “From all indications, it appears as though the Chief Judge of the FHC has surrendered control over access to the Court, as pertaining to the trial of Nnamdi Kanu, to the Department of State Services (DSS).
“The DSS appears now to be in absolute control over who has access to the FHC, and is exercising that power in a most arbitrary manner, preventing people with genuine interests in the defence of the defendant and in reporting the trial from gaining entry into the courtroom.
“Access to Justice condemns the continuing denial of Nnamdi Kanu’s lawyers and journalists access to the courtroom. The proceedings in the trial of Mazi Nnamdi Kanu are a matter with respect, to which there is considerably high public interest and it is the responsibility of the court to ensure that every aspect of that trial meets with internationally accepted standards of a public and fair trial.
This is, unfortunately, not being done. “It is untenable and indefensible for the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court to hand over control of physical access to Kanu’s trial courtroom to the DSS, the chief prosecutor in the case.
“The FHC must, in all respect, uphold the principle that the court is a fair, unbiased umpire, and will not allow one party enjoy any administrative, procedural or substantive advantage over another. “The FHC is, of course, aware of the constitutional rule that justice must not only be done, but be seen to be done.
The perception of the ordinary man, as has been iterated in many decided cases, is central to the question of justice being seen to be done.
“Many reasonable people, observing the way the court has surrendered control of its precincts to the DSS, and the manner the DSS is exercising its power over those precincts will fear that justice might not be done after all, in the trial.
“This is not to suggest, in anyway, that the trial Judge is in any way affected by the actions of the DSS, but the larger test is not whether the trial Judge was biased or not, but whether there might be a perception, by reasonable, ordinary people, that the defendant was prejudiced by the way the trial was conducted.
The stakes in this case are far too high for any aspects of the trial to be mishandled”.