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A CHARGE OF BIAS ON THE JUDGE

Dictum

A charge of bias arises when a Judge shows an act of partiality, see Akinfe v. The State (1988) 3 NWLR (pt.85) 729. Etymologically, bias means slant, personal inclination or preference; a one-sided inclination. It also means a pre-conceived opinion, a pre-disposition to decide a cause or an issue in a certain way, which does not leave the mind perfectly open to conviction. Bias creates a condition of mind which sways judgment and renders a Judge unable to exercise his functions impartially in a particular case. There is another expression and it is likelihood of bias. When a party in an action contends that there is likelihood of bias, he is anticipating that the Judge will be biased in the judicial process. The act of bias is not formalised. The act of bias is not concretised, but by the generality of the conduct of the Judge, the possibility of bias is overt. And the possibility is substantial. See generally LPDC v. Chief Fawehinmi (1985) 2 NWLR (Pt.7) 300. In a charge of bias, the integrity, honesty or fidelity of purpose and the Judge’s traditional role of holding the balance in the matter are questioned. He is branded or seen as one who leaves his exalted, respected and traditional arena of impartiality to descend unfairly on one of the parties outside all known canons of judicial discretion. The Judge is said to have a particular interest, a proprietory interest which cannot be justified on the scale of justice, as he parades that interest recklessly and parochially in the adjudication process to the detriment of the party he hates and to the obvious advantage of the party he likes. The Judge, at that level, is incapable of rational thinking and therefore rational judgment. His thoughts are blurred against the party he hates. He is poised for a fight, an uninstigated fight in which he is the main participant. The conduct of the Judge invariably and unequivocally points to one trend and it is that he will give judgment to the party he favours at all cost, come day or night, come rain or sunshine. Such is the terrible state of mind of the biased Judge or one who is likely to be biased.

— Niki Tobi, JCA. Nnamdi Eriobuna & Ors. V. Ikechukwu Obiorah (CA/E/77/99, 24 May 1999)

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WHAT IS BIAS?

Egwumi v. State (2013) LPELR-20091(SC) 23, A-B per Rhodes-Vivour, J.S.C. defined ‘bias’ as follows: “Bias means anything which tends or may be regarded as tending to cause a Judge to decide a case otherwise than on the evidence.”

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REAL LIKELIHOOD OF BIAS MUST BE INFERRED BY A REASONABLE PERSON

If it can be reasonably inferred by a reasonable person sitting in court, from the circumstances that there is a real likelihood of bias against one of the parties on the part of the court, it must follow irresistibly that party’s right to a fair hearing had been contravened and the decision on the issue between the parties by the court in such circumstances should not be allowed to stand.

– T. Muhammad, JSC. Womiloju v. Anibire (2010) – SC.211/2002

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BIAS – CAPABLE OF PERVERTING JUSTICE MUST BE ESTABLISHED

On the ‘role’ played by Mr. Kolawole as counsel, even if Kolawole JCA was indeed the same person who participated as a solicitor to the plaintiffs and they lost and the suit proceeded to appeal court wherein one of the judges was alleged to have played a role when he was a lawyer, such allegation can hardly disqualify him from participating as a judge except where it can be established that his participation is capable of perverting the cause of justice against the adverse party.

– T. Muhammad, JSC. Womiloju v. Anibire (2010) – SC.211/2002

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THE EFFECT OF BIAS ON A JUDGE

On the subject of bias, I make bold to say that the allegation once made is a serious one. This in my opinion is more serious because in this instance, the integrity of the Judge is being attacked. The language of bias is indicative of a deliberate action by the Judge to look outside the law and the facts to decide a matter. Accusing a judicial officer of bias is to say that the judicial officer is not fit to take over the responsibility of such great honour and a direct affront to the oath of office that he took on the day he was sworn in. In fact, a Judge is a representative of God on earth and therefore should imbibe the principle of justice and therefore jealously guide this divine calling. To be a judicial officer takes more than knowledge of the law and been intelligent but must more requires good character in both the strict and general sense of the word. An appeal on grounds of bias is a challenge on the character, the integrity of the judicial officer. It is a challenge that takes away from him the covering of decency as a judicial officer. I am going into all that to drive home the point that lawyers should be very careful in accusing a judicial officer of bias except when there is convincing evidence to buttress that. I make bold to say that the time has come for disciplinary action to be taken against lawyers who accuse a Court or Judge of bias which he can not establish. Once a Court has been accused of bias, unfortunately it cannot be taken back and no matter how clean the judicial officer is, there is a dent on his integrity even if it is by one person who earlier held him in high esteem. – EBIOWEI TOBI, J.C.A. Abdul v. State (2021)

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BIAS MUST BE REAL – IT MUST HAVE AN IMPRESSION ON OTHER PEOPLE

The test of determining a real likelihood of bias is that the court does not look at the mind of whoever sits in judicial capacity. It does not look to see if there was real likelihood that the judge would, or did, infact, favour one side at the expense of the other. It rather, looks at the impression which would be given to the other people. The likelihood of bias, nevertheless, must be real, not a surprise, caricature or a game of chance.

– T. Muhammad, JSC. Womiloju v. Anibire (2010) – SC.211/2002

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FOREKNOWLEDGE OF FACT CONSTITUTES BIAS

Foreknowledge of fact in such circumstance is an aspect of bias, as he did not come to the dispute with an openness of mind that would enable him to hold an even scale and he should therefore have been disqualified from hearing the appeal.

– O.O. Adekeye, JSC. Womiloju v. Anibire (2010) – SC.211/2002

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