Rivers State Government has formally inaugurated the Family Court, 13 years after the Child Rights Act was domesticated in the state.
Wife of the governor, Hon. Justice Suzette Wike, has been appointed the presiding judge of the Family Court in the state.
Speaking at the inauguration, the governor, Chief Nyesom Wike, called on the judiciary to find a way of promptly disposing of cases in the court, even when prosecutors become stumbling blocks to accelerated hearings.
Wike noted that quite often, prosecutors inexcusably withdrew from the prosecution of child rights abuse cases, thus denying justice to the children.
He therefore urged the judiciary to do everything possible to achieve the essence of establishing the Family Court, which is to engender a child-friendly justice system that treats children with dignity and fairness.
“The judiciary could, on their own by funds available, hire another prosecutor(s) so that these cases do not die,” the governor suggested.
The governor also unveiled the “Family Court Rules, the Guide,” and a book titled, “The Child, Ethics and the Law: A Simplified Law Guide for Children and Young Persons.”
He stated that children suffered a great deal of defilement at early age, but the lack of interest of the prosecution to pursue such cases to logical conclusion serves as another form of injustice to children.
Wike accused some lawyers of failing to stand through cases involving abused children and prosecuting offenders to a logical conclusion.
The presiding judge of the Family Court, Hon. Justice Suzette Wike, said the essence of child-friendly justice is to re-orientate and rehabilitate the child.
The court, she said, will also reintegrate, bring relief and redress to the child, and not inflict corporal punishment or hardship on the child no matter the nature of delinquency.
“Under this system, the court is obliged to listen to children, consider their views and ensure their participation and protection in the process, whether as victims, witnesses or offenders,” the judge stated
Justice Wike noted that the journey to the actualization of the Family Court did not start until two years ago despite the domestication of the Child’s Rights Act by the Rivers State House of Assembly in 2009 owing to some defects.
“Apart from the lack of political will, the Rivers State Child’s Rights Law of 2009 was fundamentally defective and incapable of triggering the jurisdictional competence of a Family Court in the state, even if the state had wanted to establish such a court.
“Additionally, the textual errors, omissions and repetitions in the Rivers State Child’s Rights Law 2009 were so severe that the 2021 amendment could not cure and resolve the legal stalemate.”
She said the Family Court functions in Port Harcourt with four jurisdictions; two High Court judges and two magistrates.
According to her, it is expected to spread to all the local government areas to ease access to justice across the state as the need arises and resources allow.
“The court will be age-appropriate, speedy, and diligent. It will also focus on the child’s needs, respect the right to due process and the right to private and family life.
“It will also be accessible to all, including litigants, lawyers and non-lawyers who have the right to participate and personally conduct their cases in the court,” Justice Suzette Wike pronounced.
Chief Judge of Rivers State, Justice Simeon Amadi, said the Rivers State judiciary has already made provisions for the take-off of the Family Court. He said the judiciary is now set to commence appropriate Family Court proceedings at the High Court and Magistrate Court levels in tackling designated cases.
Attorney General of Rivers State and commissioner for Justice, Prof. Zacchaeus Adangor, lauded the establishment of the Family Court which he said is another feat in the administration of justice in Rivers State.
Former president, Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Onueze C.J Okocha, SAN, and chairman, NBA Port Harcourt branch, Victor Benibo, delivered goodwill messages on behalf of the Body of Benchers and NBA respectively.