Rivers High Court Adjourns MRA’s Suit Challenging Constitutionality of Criminal Defamation to February 9

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Mr. Kingdom I.C. Chukwuezie
Member of MRA’s network of lawyers

A Rivers State High Court sitting in Port Harcourt has adjourned hearing to February 9, 2022 in a suit filed by Media Rights Agenda (MRA) against the State Government challenging the constitutionality of the offence of criminal defamation and asking the Court to nullify the provisions of the State’s Criminal Code Law, which created the offence.

The presiding judge, Justice Elsie Thompson, adjourned the suit on December 8, 2021 at the request of the legal representative of the State’s Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Mr. Kingsley Briggs, who said he was not seized of the matter and pleaded that the matter be adjourned to a later date.

In the suit filed on behalf of MRA by Port Harcourt-based lawyer, Mr. Kingdom I.C. Chukwuezie, the organization is contending that the offence of criminal defamation violates Section 39 of 1999 Constitution, as amended, and Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, which has been domesticated in Nigeria by the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act CAP A9, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004.

MRA wants the court to determine whether the provisions of Sections 373, and 375 of the Criminal Code Law, Laws of Rivers State has a chilling effect on Section 39 of the 1999 Constitution and if so, if it is not inconsistent thereto.

It is also seeking a determination on whether the provisions of Sections 373 and 375 of the Criminal Code Law, Laws of Rivers State are within the permissible restrictions stipulated in section 45 of the 1999 Constitution or alternatively, whether the sections satisfy the requirements of Section 45 of the 1999 Constitution.

MRA is asking the court to determine whether Sections 373 and 375 of the Criminal Code Law, Laws of Rivers State are likely to infringe upon the right to freedom of expression of MRA and other Nigerians as provided in section 39 of the Constitution.

It is asking the court to decide whether Sections 373 and 375 of the Criminal Code Law, Laws of Rivers State should be declared unconstitutional, null and void if it is held to be inconsistent with the provisions of Section 39 and 45 of the Constitution.

Named as Respondents in the suit are the Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice of Rivers State and State’s Police Commissioner.

When the suit came up for hearing for the first time on December 8, Mr. H.C. Nwokoro, representing MRA, told the court that the parties to the suit had been served with the originating process and the hearing notice.

However, Mr. Briggs pleaded that he was not seized of the matter and applied to the court for an adjournment.

Justice Thompson accordingly granted the request and adjourned hearing in the suit to February 9, 2022.

In the suit brought pursuant to Order 2 Rules 1, 2, 3, of the Fundamental Rights (Enforcement Procedure) Rules, 2019; Sections 39 of the Constitution; and Article 9 of the African Charter, MRA is seeking the following reliefs:

A declaration that the provisions of Sections 373, and 375 of the Criminal Code Law, Laws of Rivers State, Nigeria is in violation of Section 39 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) and Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights;

A declaration that the Rivers State Government’s actions in giving effect to the provisions of Sections 373, and 375 of the Criminal Code Law, Laws of Rivers State, to arrest, detain, harass, imprison and/or penalize MRA’s members, associates and other Nigerians, is in violation of their rights under Section 39 of the 1999 Constitution and Article 9 of the African Charter;

A declaration that the provisions of Sections 373 and 375 of the Criminal Code Law, Laws of Rivers State are not permissible restrictions to right to freedom of expression as contained in Section 45 of the 1999 Constitution;

An order directing the Rivers State Government to repeal or amend Sections 373 and 375 of the Criminal Code Law, Laws of Rivers State in line with the provision of Section 39 of the 1999 Constitution and its obligations under the African Charter; and

A perpetual injunction restraining the Rivers State Government and its agencies from further giving effect to the provisions of the Sections 373, and 375 of the Criminal Code Law, Laws of Rivers State.