The Supreme Court has quashed the conviction and 30-day sentencing of a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Dr. Joseph Nwobike, charged with attempt to pervert the course of justice.
In a unanimous decision yesterday, the five-member panel of the apex court, headed by Justice Olukayode Ariwoola, faulted the earlier decisions of the High Court of Lagos State and the Court of Appeal, Lagos, and proceeded to uphold Nwobike’s appeal.
It held, among others, that the High Court of Lagos was wrong in convicting Nwobike for the offence, while the Court of Appeal erred in upholding his conviction and sentencing for an attempt to pervert the course of justice.
The apex court averred that Section 97(3) of the Criminal Law of Lagos State, under which he was charged, does not clearly define what constitutes perversion of justice for which the appellant could be held liable.
It added that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) lacks the power to investigate and prosecute the offence of perversion of justice.
The court also held that the alleged perversion of the course of justice does not fall within the contemplation of economic and financial crimes that affect the economic activities of the government for which the EFCC has the power to investigate and prosecute.
The lead judgment in the appeal was prepared by Justice Tijani Abubakar but delivered yesterday by Justice Helen Ogunwumiju.
Justice Ogunwumiju quoted Justice Abubakar as saying: “Having resolved that the EFCC does not have the power to prosecute the offences constituted in Counts Seven to 17 of the amended charge and that in the light of the decision of the trial court that Section 97(3) of the Criminal Law of Lagos State (2011) does not define the manner of perversion of justice for which the appellant may be held culpable.”
“It follows that the appellant cannot be tried and convicted on the aforesaid counts Seven to 11, 13, 15 to 17 of the amended information and, by necessary implication, therefore, the conviction of the appellant cannot be sustained.
“I find this point a convenient place to conclude the determination of this appeal. On the whole, therefore, I find merit in this appeal and it is hereby allowed.
“The decision of the Court of Appeal delivered on December 19, 2019 in appeal …is hereby set aside.
“The appellant’s conviction and sentence on counts Seven to 11, Count 13, counts 15 to 17 of the amended information are hereby set aside. The appellant is consequently discharged,” Justice Abubakar said.
The judge explained that since there was no appeal on the constitutionality of Section 97(3) of the Criminal Law of Lagos State, the court could not pronounce on it.
The other two members of the panel are: Justices John Okoro and Abdul Aboki.
The EFCC had arraigned Nwobike before Justice R. I. B. Adebiyi of the High Court of Lagos State in Ikeja on an 18-count amended charge in which he was accused of, among others, paying money to judges and exchanging telephone messages with court officials to influence the assignment and hearing of his cases.