Issuance of criminal writs of arrest had long been a lucrative business for magistrates and judges in courtrooms across the country until Monday, August 8, when Chief Justice Francis S. Korkpor ordered the practice halted.
Writs of arrest were until now commonly obtained by non-lawyers who paid fees to judges and magistrates purposely to have an individual suspected of having committed a crime arrested and jailed. In many instances, at the request of a mere plaintiff (not their lawyer), a judge or magistrate would issue a writ of arrest on a Friday afternoon and abruptly served on a “number of suspects and others to be identified”, who would have no time to assemble the bond payment, a lawyer or both to avoid spending the entire weekend in jail. This has been a regular practice, especially for a complainant aiming to spitefully inconvenience a rival party.
Though Chief Justice Korkpor was not clear on the issue of judges and magistrates taking money in exchange of the writs, he ordered them to stop issuing criminal writs of arrest because it is not their responsibility to do so.
Justice Korkpor sounded the warning when, for the first time as Chief Justice he attended the formal opening of Criminal Courts, A, B, C, D and E, at the Temple of Justice.
He, however, said judges and magistrates under the law would issue criminal writ of arrest and indictment, but must be granted only at the request of lawyers of the Ministry of Justice.
“I know that you have rights to issue the writs and indictment, but that should be done with lawyers from the MOJ and not by you alone and you don’t need to go up there looking for cases you are not party to,” Chief Justice Korkpor said.
He said the Solicitor General, City Solicitor, County Attorney and Prosecuting Attorneys should ask before judges and magistrates can issue writs against suspected criminals.
He said judges and magistrates must be frank to tell non-lawyers that it is not their (judge’s or magistrate’s) job to issue writ of arrest, but that of prosecutors.
Justice Korkpor’s action did not go down well with some lawyers, who on Monday argued that the Chief Justice did not explain how they should handle complaints against lawyers of the MOJ.
“What if a lawyer of the ministry commits an act against a non-lawyer who wants to file a client’s complaint before a writ of arrest can be served on an individual?” he wondered.
According to Chief Justice Korkpor, every criminal case must be handled by government lawyers before it reaches the court.
“You can’t take someone else’s interest, it is the government that should do that for the individual,” Justice Korkpor said.
“You can tell the accused to go home and come the next day, if they cannot file a criminal appearance bond, or you can ask them to find a prominent person in their community as their guarantor, and send them back home,” the Chief justice explained.
“I don’t want to hear anymore that you people are sending others to jail just for petty crimes. You have to learn how to use good judgment to stop sending people to jail, “the Supreme Court head maintained.
Justice Korkpor said “I do not want to be a part of a system that would be considered a failed state. I hope that we all work together to avoid a failed state by letting prosecutors to enforce my order.”