The Structures

 

The Supreme Court comprises judicial and administrative structures. It carries out all its activities throughout the year.

A –Judicial structures of the Supreme Court

These structures are at the Bench and the Legal Department.

As of date, the Court has sixty one Members, forty two (42) of whom are Super Scale, fifteen (15) fourth grade and four (4) third grade.

All magistrates of the Supreme Court have at least twenty (20) years of experience in service.

Besides the three Registrars-in Chief, the Court has a non- magistrate staff strength of four hundred and nine (409) comprising registrars, Contract Officers, Computer technicians, secretaries, archivists, translators, interpreters and drivers.

1) Judicial staff of the Supreme Court

Members of the Supreme Court are Magistrates governed by the Rules and Regulations governing the judicial and legal service.

However, for service reasons, the following officials may be appointed as Judges of the Supreme Court or Advocates General on extraordinary service in administrative or audit matters:

-University lecturers in law and Economics with at least fifteen consecutive years of the rank of Professor who have been teaching Law or Economics;

- Lawyers enrolled in the Cameroon Bar with at least twenty (20) consecutive years of practice;

-Category ‘A’ civil servants and contract workers, who are holders of a Masters Degree in Law, with at least twenty consecutive years in service.

Before taking office, the Judges and Advocates General on extraordinary service shall take the magistrates’ oath provided for by the rules and regulations governing the judicial and legal service.

During the exercise of their duties, they shall, with respect to discipline, be placed under the authority of the organs provided for, in this respect, by the rules and regulations governing the judicial and legal service.          

The distinguishing principle of the magistrate of the Bench is independence. Independence, which is the obligation for the magistrate to rely only on the law and his conscience in the exercise of his duties, is an age-old principle.

Formerly, the power to adjudicate was a transferable venal function which the King of France could bestow on any person in return for a yearly tax.

In 1464, Louis XI granted it in perpetuity except in cases of forfeiture or resignation, thereby guaranteeing security of tenure. Besides, since recruitment into the magistracy was for sale, the power to adjudicate became the exclusive preserve of rich lords thereby ensuring their independence. The 1789 French Revolution abolished the sale of the power to adjudicate as well as the life-long tenure of office and substituted them with judges elected for six years by the people’s delegates.

The jurors, according to an Ordinance of 1791, had to base their decisions on their personal convictions and not on the legal evidence adduced.

The revolution, however, bequeathed to posterity two important guarantees for litigants:

-         The obligation for judges to deliver reasoned judgments; and

-         Open court sessions.

Similarly, about three centuries ago, British judges were not independent. Under the Norman monarchy they discharged their duties under the King who wielded judicial power.  Francis BACON, the crown prosecutor of the 17th century, in this connection said that judges were “lions in hiding under the throne». They were all replaced with the coming into power of a new sovereign.

With the fall of the STEWART dynasty in 1688, the idea of protecting the judges was born. King William III promulgated the Settlement Act of 1703 that provided for fixed salaries for the judges. Since then, a judge could be dismissed from office only on ground of gross misconduct and only on the consent of the majority of both Houses of Parliament. About 1830, these principles of the independence of the judiciary were extended to Great Britain’s colonies of North America by the British North America Act of 1867.

 The principle of independence of the Magistrate of the Bench has been reaffirmed by the Constitution and the ensuing Rules and Regulations governing the judicial and legal service.

Thus, in the discharge of their judicial duties, Magistrates of the Bench rely only on the law and their conscience. Clearly, given the independence granted them by law, they receive no instructions when delivering their judgments.

Their counterparts of the Legal Department are subject to the principle of subordination to hierarchy. This means they are placed under the control and supervision of their superiors and under the authority of the Minister of Justice, Keeper of the Seals.

The Legal Department started taking shape in the XIV century; the king had his lawyers and legal counsel to defend private interests. They became real magistrates representing public interests, defending the general interest of the society and the State before royal courts in which they were members.

In the following century, the corps of the king’s legal counsel and advocates was organized into a hierarchy. They were placed under the Procureur of the Legal Department.

 The Deputies to the Procureur of the king who were under his orders, sat in Parliament[1] and also took charge of prosecution became known as Procureurs General.

The Advocates General on their part, were given the floor during court sessions.

These two categories formed the Legal Department because the magistrates comprising it stand in front of the judge and plead at the bar. They are not on the rostrum like their counterparts of the Bench.

In the Old Regime, the chancellor, who was at the head of the judicial system and chief officer of the crown, had prerogatives, some of which have survived him:

-      Keeping and making use of  the  Seal:

-      Drafting of laws.

Unlike France, England for a long time had no system of state prosecution. Any one as an individual could commence prosecution. Besides, in the 18th century justices of the peace were magistrates in their private capacity.

.In the 19th century the police was in charge of prosecution. The office of public prosecutor under the authority of the Attorney General which had existed in the medieval era was revived in 1879. The Attorney General had the duty of defending the interests of the Crown. In this wise, he was counsel for Government and intervened in court in the name of the Crown. He equally protected public interests and minors. Furthermore, he could replace the person who had commenced prosecution,  continue or discontinue action. The Director of Public Prosecution on his part could only commence, continue or direct criminal proceedings as prescribed by law, or on the orders of the Attorney General in a specific matter.

As stated above, the Legal Department is placed under the authority of the Minister of Justice, Keeper of the Seals.

Consequently, the Minister of Justice may inform the Procureur General of a Court of Appeal of any criminal offences he is aware of, enjoin him to commence or cause the commencement of legal proceedings or seise the court with jurisdiction with written submissions which he deems appropriate.

The Minister of Justice can therefore give orders to all the magistrates of the Legal Department through the Procureur General of the Court of Appeal.

He may not refer a matter directly to the State Counsel.

The Procureur General at the Court of Appeal has supervisory authority over Advocates General, Deputy Procureurs General and State Counsel under his jurisdiction.

The State Counsel has the same authority over his Assistants and judicial police officers within his jurisdiction.

With the exception of the Procureur General at the Supreme Court who has no authority over the other Legal Departments all members of the Legal Department are organized into a hierarchy.

Procureurs General at the Courts of Appeal are not subordinate to the Procureur General at the Supreme Court but to the Minister of Justice, Keeper of the Seals.

.Furthermore, hierarchical subordination also means obligation of subordinates to inform their seniors: the State Counsel reports important matters known as “reported matters” to the Procureur General while the Procureur General in turn informs the Minister of Justice, Keeper of the Seals.

This hierarchical subordination however has limits. It is diluted by the old adage which holds that “print is binding but words are free.” This principle holds that the written submissions of Magistrates of the Legal Department must comply with the instructions received from hierarchy but that such Magistrates are free during court sessions to make oral submissions which are different.

 The Supreme Court comprises:

 

a)     The Bench

 

-        The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court;

-        Presidents of the Benches;

-        Judges of the Supreme Court;

-        Masters of the Supreme Court;

-        Puisne Judges of the Supreme Court;

-       The Registrar-in-Chief of the Supreme Court;

-       Registrars-in-Chief of the Benches; and

-        Court Registrars.



[1]Parliament: a judicial, administrative, and political institution in the Old French Regime.

English