The Friday’s judgment of the Supreme Court which nullified the trial and conviction of a former governor of Abia State, Orji Kalu, will cause an automatic reversal of gains already recorded in at least 50 criminal cases pending or concluded at various High Courts, findings by Sunday PUNCH have revealed.
The progress recorded in the over 50 cases are attributable to the authorities given to about eight Justices of the Court of Appeal to return to their previous positions as High Court judges to conclude the cases which they were handling before their elevation to the higher bench.
But in a major upset, reversing the progress recorded in the cases, the Supreme Court on Friday nullified Section 396(7) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015, which made it possible for the Justices to continue handling the cases after their elevation to the Court of Appeal bench.
The section 396(7) is one of the innovative provisions, including the prohibition of stay of proceedings in a criminal trial, contained in ACJA which was enacted in 2015 to address delays and other odds often encountered in criminal trials in the country.
The apex court had since 2017 validated Section 306 of ACJA which barred stay of proceedings in criminal trial.
But a full panel of seven Justices of the Supreme Court, on Friday, made the far-reaching decision nullifying Section 396(7) in the case involving Kalu, who along with others had been convicted and sentenced for N7.1bn fraud on December 5, 2019.
The panel led by Justice Olabode Rhodes-Vivour, unanimously nullified the ex-governor’s trial.
It also ordered that the trial which had lasted 12 years with 19 witnesses called by the prosecution, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, be reassigned to another judge of the Federal High Court and start afresh.
The apex court’s judgment was on the grounds that a Justice of the Court of Appeal, Justice Mohammed Idris, who handed down the conviction in December 2019, lacked the power to return to the Federal High Court to conclude the case which he had partly heard before his elevation to the higher bench.
The apex court also nullified Section 396(7) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015 which had enabled the then President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa (retd), to issue fiat to Justice Idris to return to the Federal High Court to conclude the case.
Justice Ejembi Eko delivered the apex court’s lead judgment and other members of the panel, comprising, Justices Rhodes-Vivour, Mary Odili, Olukayode Ariwoola, Kudirat Kekere-Ekun, Inyang Okoro and Amina Augie consented.
Few days after the Federal High Court had convicted Kalu, the then President of the Court of Appeal, Bulkachuwa, on December 9, 2019 had lauded the completion of the case.
Justice Bulkachuwa attributed the credit to the provision of section 396(7) of ACJA, 2015.
She spoke in Abuja at a national workshop organised by the Centre for Socio-Legal Studies in collaboration with Federal Ministry of Justice on setting of minimum standards for the effective implementation of ACJA.