Blazing the trail of judicial development
Only a few weeks back, I was privileged to attend the ceremony that marked the commencement of the legal year for Lagos judiciary.
As is customary, the church and mosque services had been held on the first day, and the second day was to have a keynote address and an opportunity for the Bench and Bar to interact.
The ambience of the foyer of the Lagos State High Court was inviting; sober, yet with the exhilarating pomp of the new legal year, lawyers and judges having convivial exchanges and exciting banter.
At that event, I realized how far Lagos had come in terms of development of its judiciary, and how other jurisdictions had to fall in stride.
Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN), a highly cerebral and esteemed lawyer, delivered the keynote address, and true to it, I do not think a better address could have been delivered than that, poignantly calling to mind why the judiciary inevitably needs to set the pace, always.
In it, he traced very meticulously the history of the legal profession and how it started in Lagos, how the very first inkling and tittle of the judiciary was born in Lagos, and how Lagos has continued to set landmarks over the years that other jurisdictions have scrambled to keep up with.
Yet, in the fray, there are jurisdictions that have refused to keep up, and stayed where they are, making those places a nightmare for justice delivery. In most jurisdictions, the e-filing system adopted by Lagos State is yet to become a reality or even be considered in many jurisdictions.
Also, the promotion of Alternative Dispute Resolution has been overlooked by many jurisdictions, leading to clogged dockets.
The creation of the Lagos Multi-Door Court House and the use of court referrals to them has made it easier for Mediation, Conciliation and Arbitration to work in Lagos, an idea that truly had hitches when it first began, but has since grown to become part of the justice system of Lagos.
Even so much that recently, during the Ikorodu Settlement Week, the judiciary in Lagos boasted of being able to settle disputes involving over 500 people.
The court’s newly introduced Judiciary Information System, a welcome introduction of technology, has also made the justice delivery process fluid.
The truth is that for the common man to have confidence in the courts’ ability to deliver justice, the court must actually be seen to be doing the job of delivering justice, not adjournments and motions, affidavits and counter-affidavits.
The idea people have of the justice system on the average in Nigeria is one that drags cases for years without a solution, while time and money is being spent, so the man who has a claim that could be tried at the High Court and is verily assured that he has a good case, is advised by well-meaning relatives to ‘let it go’ and ‘leave it for God’, options that eventually lead the wrongdoer who wronged him to repeat the action on another thereby continuing the vicious cycle, others who are less forgiving, go ahead to use the police to settle such matters, even when clearly, the police should not be involved in civil claims and issues of debt.
And some others too, with even less patience resort to jungle justice and sorcery. In all of these, all they seek is justice.
What if the courts could give them this justice, assure them of speedy trials or where necessary a reference to mediation, conciliation or arbitration? What if execution of court judgments did not have to take so long? What if judges were custodians of justice and not compelled by technicalities?
The speech by the learned silk not only gave me reason to see why other jurisdictions should borrow a leaf- a whole tree maybe- from Lagos, but it also gave me reason to see why the Lagos judiciary cannot remain at the place where it is, being situated in the mitochondrion of Nigerian commerce.
The Attorney General of Lagos State, Mr Adeniyi Kazeem, was also present on that day and addressed the many governance concerns that were raised about the state of affairs of the judiciary, especially with regards appointing new judges.
This collaboration is what should be constantly seen in the judiciary. The introduction of the DNA forensic center by the Governor also points to a worthy collaboration between the Executive chair and the Bench to ensure justice is easier and faster to achieve.
While ensuring judicial independence, State governments should see to it that infrastructure, welfare, and security of the judiciary is maintained, and there should be a working relationship between the executive and the judiciary.
The Chief Judge also gave positive responses to issues raised, announcing an Instagram and Twitter account for her office for complaints from the public sphere- a laudable move that brings the people closer to the courts, removing the brick wall that the layman always assumed existed between him and the court of law.
She also promised to fish out racketeers in the justice system that worked as bailiffs, court clerks and registrars, as the learned silk had described them as the ‘hands and legs’ of the judiciary in his paper, and indicated that they were a desiderata in the wheel of justice. This is a worthy move that should be replicated all over the Federation.
The Lagos State High Court also organizes seminars and timely retreats to keep the judges abreast with various aspects of law, and help them to handle complex technical cases, especially in commercial law. With the fast track courts, this is becoming even more frequent and has helped cases to be resolved faster.
There is no doubt that the knowledge base of the judges is important in enabling sound and quick dispensation of justice. This should be introduced in the judiciary of various States as well.
States of the Federation should learn the ropes from Lagos State judiciary, not just because it is the premier judiciary and the cradle of the legal profession but because it continues to bear the torch and forge ahead; in strategy, in development, in technology, in law.
I am therefore throwing down the gauntlet for various States of the Federation and their judiciaries and further charging the Lagos State judiciary not to rest on its oars, because in the words of Socrates, famous Greek philosopher, ‘Nothing is to be preferred before justice’.
Adebayo, a lawyer writes from Lagos.