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Stakeholders advocate training of judicial officers on virtual proceedings

By Joseph Onyekwere
22 November 2022   |   4:07 am
Stakeholders have advocated adequate training of judges, lawyers and other judicial personnel on the use of modern technologies for the adoption of online and virtual court hearings.

Partner, PUNUKA, Ebelechukwu Enedah (left); Justice Alaba Omolaye-Ajileye of Kogi State Judiciary; Chief Judge, Ogun State Judiciary, Justice Mosunmola Dipeolu; Justice Bonaventure Mbewe of High Court of Zambia and Justice O. Mabekoje of Ogun State Judiciary during the workshop on virtual court proceedings.

Stakeholders have advocated adequate training of judges, lawyers and other judicial personnel on the use of modern technologies for the adoption of online and virtual court hearings.

This, according to them, would not only fast track the dispensation of justice, but also help in developing the justice administration system.

They made the call at the opening ceremony of a two-day workshop for judicial workers in Ogun State on “Electronic Evidence and Imperative for Online Court Hearing”, held in Abeokuta, the state capital.

The workshop, which was attended by judges, court registers, lawyers and other judicial personnel, was organised by Attorney General Alliance – Africa (AGA-Africa) in conjunction with the Ogun State Government.

Those who delivered lectures at the workshop were Justice Bonaventure Mbewe from Zambia, Chief Anthony Idigbe (SAN), Ogun State High court judge, Justice Eniola Fabamwo and Justice Alaba Omolaye-Ajileye, among others.

Delivering his lecture, Justice Mbewe insisted that Nigeria and indeed Africa, were ripe for the adoption of virtual court hearing.

Mbewe stressed the need for collaboration among African countries to share knowledge and experience on digitilisation of court proceedings.

He said: “We need to engage our judicial workers more in training on how to use these equipment, let us embrace the technologies, let us teach ourselves, because they are not going to go away.

“Virtual hearings are here to stay, the sooner we embrace them, the better the administration of justice will become.

“I encourage Nigeria to learn as much as you can from other jurisdictions. I encourage you, my brother and sister judges to talk among yourselves on how you can improve, how you can deploy technologies to assist you in this area.

“I believe the first thing that Nigeria can do is to interact more with other jurisdictions to learn from what others are doing.

“Virtual trial is a phenomenon everywhere, it is the way to go, it will speed hearings, eliminate unnecessary adjournments and face-to-face court processes.

“To go virtual in court proceedings is possible, but it is not something that can be done in a day, we can start small and then build on whatever we have.

“It is implementable, in my view within the next three to five years, we should all be there where we can say we are dispensing justice virtually.”

In her welcome address, the Chief Judge of Ogun State, Justice Mosunmola Dipeolu, said the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic had forced many judges in Nigeria to adopt online court hearings.

She said: “In today’s world, modern technology such as electronic case management system, electronic data management system, e-tiling, e- service, e- payment, case tracking systems are deployed to reduce backlog of cases and reduce the menace of delays in the courts.

“Ogun State Judiciary is also one of the state’s Judiciary that has embraced, developed and instituted some of these concepts.

“The Ogun State Judiciary e-registry, which comprises e- filing, e-payment, e-service, e-probate is set. However, I must say that lawyers have not really keyed into electronic filing. I know the concept of change can be difficult but it must be embraced.

“IT Justice has come to stay, we therefore must prepare ourselves as Judges and being the major key player in the justice delivery system, to work with the concept of e-justice towards a transparent and effective justice delivery system. The goal is to be better at what we do and we must not lose focus of that.

“Consequently, training of this nature is essential towards achieving the goal of a better justice sector, which is technologically supported and driven.

“The cyberspace is a large world web that is constantly growing, we need every skill that we can acquire to navigate it. This is particularly so with the growing concept of what electronic documents are. The courts still face challenges with regards to treatment of electronically generated documents with regards to definitions, genuineness, reliability and admissibility.”

Also Chief Idigbe called on both the Federal and State governments to make huge investments in technologies for the full adoption of virtual court hearings.

He, however, warned that efforts must be put in place to reduce cyber security risk during virtual court proceedings.

Speaking to journalists on the sideline of the event, Ebelechukwu Enedah, a partner at Punuka Attorneys and Solicitors, stressed the need for the judiciary system to go digital so as to decongest the correctional facilities in the country.

“If we are to adopt online court hearings, bail applications can be held virtually, so there will be no need to bring suspects standing trials to court to take their plea. They can actually stay in the correctional facilities and with video conferencing, the judge is able to take their plea.

“If we adopt online court hearings, we will have a rapid decongestion of our custodial facilities,” she stated.