By practice, counsel most times apply for the certified true copy (CTC) of court decisions with respect to rulings, it is to afford the aggrieved party the opportunity to study and review the court’s ruling with a view to a possible interlocutory appeal. The standard is for application to be made to the registry which will in turn assess the fees payable for the printed copy of the ruling before same is certified in consonance with the dictates of the Evidence Act. However, this simple process as described hardly obtains in our courts.
Bearing in mind that interlocutory appeals against a ruling have limited time frame to file, usually within fourteen days of the ruling and consequential orders made therein; it beggars belief that making the CTC of the ruling available upon application to the court’s registry could sometimes be a frustrating affair.
Even in the era when sophisticated information and communication technology (ICT) and word processors are not readily available or scarce i.e the period when manual typewriters (or if one is lucky, the electronic typewriter) were the thing in vogue, applying and obtaining CTC of rulings do not usually take time or suffer unnecessary delay. In today’s Nigeria however, it is rather puzzling how and why courts’ ruling should not be made available within shortest time after being delivered or rendered.
Responsible for this is a number of man-made challenges not the least the inadequacy of word processing computers or the heavy workloads for the courts all competing for attention. However, the main problem is the entrenched system where obtaining the copy of the ruling (not yet the CTC) requires paying through the nose. It is otherwise called “mobilization”.
Recently, at the Federal High Court, a senior judge berated members of the bar for encouraging the “mobilization” culture. From filing court processes to having them served by the bailiffs, to knowing the assignment status of fresh matters or re-assignment of pending ones when circumstances demand; “mobilization” has become the order of the day. It is even more pervasive when it has to do with obtaining certified true copy of rulings. The more you wish to make sense of it, the worst off you become. Your refusal to play game might make you appear as incompetent. Things should not be this way. What should be done?
Last week, news filtered in from Kenya that the country’s Supreme Court annulled the recent presidential election held in that country and ordered a new election. The good part is that Nigerian news media especially online duly obtained a copy of the court’s ruling with the consequential orders pronounced by the court. How was that possible? The court’s decision was simply made available almost contemporaneously after the court’s sitting. That is what obtains in virtually every other place. Similarly, the recent case of the fight over baby Charlie Gard in the English Court exemplifies how things should be done. In the case – Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) v Constance Yates, Christopher Gard, & Charlie Gard (by his Guardian), reported as GOSH V Gard  EWHC 1909 (Fam), the English family Court’s decision rendered on 24 July, 2017 was posted on the court’s web portal just about under two hours after same was delivered, thereby giving timely access to same not only to the parties concerned, but the entire public. Mr. Justice Francis made a notation as follows: “Approved Judgment – I direct that pursuant to CPR PD 39A para 6.1, no official shorthand note shall be taken of this Judgment and that copies of this version as handed down may be treated as authentic.”
The implication of the note is to obviate parties or members of the public going back and forth in a bid to obtaining the copy of the court’s decision. All one needs to do is to go to the relevant court’s web portal, search for the particular decision of interest, download and print same. It is therefore no registrar’s prerogative as to when one obtains a CTC of court’s decision after making formal application. All that is left is for one to download and print the court’s ruling, then walk into the court’s registry for same to be certified. This reflects an efficient deployment of ICT. And the net effect as an index of access to justice cannot be overemphasized.
Undoubtedly, we are making progress in Nigeria with respect to the deployment and availability of the efficiency in the use of ICT. However, a whole lot still needs to be done. Lagos State Judiciary now operates an e-filing and electronic court dockets management system. Nevertheless, the penetration and utilization is still far from what they should be. That is why a newly filed case might languish for days or even weeks before being assigned a permanent suit number (and without the permanent suit number, service of the originating processes might not be effected). Thus, if case preliminaries still suffer from hiccups, one begins to wonder what to expect of rulings and judgments.
As stated earlier, deployment of ICT in every facet of the court’s system has become non-negotiable. It is hoped that our courts would tow similar paths as elsewhere towards ensuring that the “mobilization” culture is eradicated.
Ajadi (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a senior associate at Wale Taiwo & Co, Magodo GRA Phase II, Lagos.
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