The Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen, has been conferred with the 2018 Michael Hill Prize for his reform agenda which has positively changed the way the Nigerian Judiciary works.
The award was presented to the CJN Onnoghen in Montreal, Canada, by the International Society for the Reform of Criminal Law (ISRCL), an international non-governmental association of Judges, legislators, lawyers, academics, police and corrections professionals, at its 31st conference in Canada with the theme ”The Scourge of Trafficking in the 21st Century”.
A statement by the Senior Special Assistant to the CJN on Media, Mr. Awassam Bassey, stated that while presenting the award, ISRCL President, Major General Greg Melick, described Justice Onnoghen as “a judges’ judge on account of his over 30 years devotion to the pursuit of justice”, and a “leading light of the Nigerian Judiciary”.
According to the ISRCL President, “Mr. Justice Onnoghen has been a leading light on the Nigerian Supreme Court, and the Nigerian Judiciary as a whole, central to the protection and stabilization of democracy, checking the near-sighted antics of do-or-die politicians. Cases like Amaechi vs INEC are cited as examples of the outside-the-box jurisprudence that saved Nigeria’s democracy”.
Merlick said Justice Onnoghen has, since his appointment as Chief Justice of Nigeria in November 2016, brought a lot of zeal and originality to judicial administration in the country, adding that through a series of National Judicial Council committees, the CJN launched a Judicial Reform Programme that is already showing results.
According to the ISRCL President, “One result that is exciting the populace is the apparent end to the stalemate in the prosecution of high-profile corruption cases. Cases are now reaching conclusion, evinced by two recent high-profile convictions of two former state governors”.
Melick said the ISRCL had chosen Mr. Justice Onnoghen for the Michael Hill Medal Award because he is “an embodiment of the ideals and goals of the International Society for the Reform of Criminal Law”.
Accepting the award, the Chief Justice called on criminal prosecutors in particular, and lawyers in general, to imbibe the virtues of the late Michael Hill whom he described as “a relentless prosecutor, “a dogged defence counsel” who “had a reputation for holding himself to the highest standards of professional conduct, dedication to duty and the pursuit of justice”.
While noting that Michael Hill operated in era in which social media did not exist, Justice Onnoghen used the medium to warn against media trial which, he said, could irredeemably destroy reputations.
His words: “The speed and reach of information dissemination are now astounding. Reputations and lives may be destroyed, irretrievably, in minutes”.
The award ceremony was witnessed by participants from over 50 countries including a team of Justices from the Supreme Court of Nigeria and Chief Judges of states.