On the 27th day of May, 2009 the immediate past Governor of Cross River State, Sen. Liyel Imoke gave executive assent to the bill for a “Law to protect the rights of a child and for other related matters, 2009”.
The said enactment is now popularly known as the Child Rights Law of Cross River State, 2009.
Following the enactment of the said Law, child rights activists in the State intensified their campaign for the full implementation of the Law and demanded for the formal inauguration of the Family Court in the State.
At the vanguard of the campaign was Basic Rights Counsel Initiative, a famous and leading child rights organization in the State.
Section 150 of the Child Rights Law clearly establishes the Family Court. The section provides thus: Section 150: “There shall be established for the State a Court to be known as “the Family Court” (in this Law referred to as “the Court”) for the purpose of hearing and determining matters relating to children”.
Section 151: “The Court shall be at two levels the Court as a Division of the High Court at High Court level; and the Court as a Magistrate Court, at the Magisterial level”.
It is of moment to note that although the Child Rights Law existed in the State since May, 2009, the Family Courts were not operational and were only inaugurated in late 2011.
In response to popular demand by stakeholders, the immediate past C-J of Cross River State, Hon. Justice Dorothy Eyamba-Idem OFR formally inaugurated the Family Court in Cross River State, as part of a workshop held on 19th – 20th December, 2011 at the Mirage Hotel, Calabar.
The workshop was held under the theme “Law & Justice in the Best Interest of the Child” and was fully attended by the current Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, SAN as a co-facilitator.
By the very tenor of the Child Rights Law, it is only the Family Court sitting either at the High Court Division or at the magisterial level that can properly entertain and determine causes pertaining to children.
And therefore the regular High Courts and Magistrate Courts cannot properly exercise jurisdiction in matters involving or relating to children. This is more so because the Family Courts have since been constituted and inaugurated in the State.
Section 163 of the Child Rights Law, 2009 provides in clear and unambiguous terms that: “No other court, except the Court, shall exercise jurisdiction in any matter relating to children as are specified in this Law”.
Fully abreast and armed with this provision of the Law, the present writer recently succeeded in moving a Magistrate Court to strike out a charge against a 15 year old boy, for lack of jurisdiction.
The young lad was allegedly caught throwing excreta on a major road in Calabar. He was arrested and immediately arraigned at the sanitation Court in Calabar in Charge No. MC/CUDA/008/15.
The present writer was in court and quickly came to the aid of the poor lad by providing him free legal service.
The wisdom behind the exclusive nature of the jurisdiction of the Family Courts is that cases relating to children are better determined in a most suited and congenial atmosphere of a family setting where the child can best articulate and express his/her thoughts, feelings, emotions and concerns, and not the usual acrobatic and adversarial atmosphere of the regular courts.
It is disheartening and indeed worrisome that since their formal inauguration in December, 2011 the Family Courts in Cross River State only sat for a period of about two years and never sat afterward.
The result is that there is no functional Family Court in Cross River State as we speak, and there is no hope that the Family Courts will resume duty soon.
Consequently, children related cases including, welfare, maintenance, parental responsibility etc. are now left to lie unattended to and without any hope of getting justice.
This situation is condemnable in the strongest terms and it is definitely not in the best interest of children in the State.
As we approach the dawn of the year 2016 and in the spirit of this season of yuletide, it is imperative that the government of Cross River State and particularly the leadership of the Cross River State Judiciary begin to resolutely take positive steps to restore a functional Family Court system in Cross River State without further delay.
The government must especially pay attention to the many problems presently bedevilling the Family Courts in the State, including but not limited to the problem of logistics to run the courts, poor remuneration of assessors, the need for refresher courses/ in-service training of assessors.
It is only then that the Cross River Judiciary and by extension, the Cross River State Government would be seen to be children friendly.
Eno Iyamba, Esq (email@example.com) Private Legal Practitioner and Legal Officer at Basic Rights Counsel Initiative, Calabar.
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