Lawyers and the Fight Against Corrupt Practices – Bayo Akinlade, Esq

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Bayo-Akinlade
Bayo-Akinlade

My secretary said to me after she returned from filing a matter in Court; “Everyone I met in the process of filing insisted I gave them money before they could do anything – sir, if this is how things are, even in the Judiciary, there is no hope for the common man and the whole fight against corruption is a big lie”

I pondered heavily on her remarks and decided to launch a facebook page to fight corruption in the Judiciary nationwide. We started our campaign against Corruption in the Judiciary, documenting incidences of corrupt practices, engaging with the Judiciary to reduce these incidences and suggesting ways of combating corruption within the Justice Sector. We however realised that lawyers and litigants had a more critical role to play in reducing the incidences of corruption as we sadly discovered that most of the corrupt practices we found in our courts where fuelled and maintained by lawyers and litigants

We were indeed shocked at our discovery but we soon understood why. Mr. A is a lawyer who wants his processes filed fast, served on time and gets assigned on time (on the instruction of his client…of course) so he goes to the registry to file, the registry officials may demand for money but he is under no obligation to give but for fear that he would be perceived as a stingy lawyer he obliges. He goes ahead to be generous demanding that his file be immediately transmitted to the sheriff section for service. He then goes to the sheriff department to enquire who the documents where given to for service, meets with the sheriff and offers some money to the sheriff to treat his process as a priority for service. He then goes to the records section to offer them money to ensure that the file is transmitted to the assigning Judge for service after proof of service has been obtained. This whole process may take between 2 weeks to 3 months or even longer depending on many factors but one factor that the lawyer cannot control is the time it takes for the assigning Judge to do the assignment to a court and when that court will have a free date to list the case for mention.

Unfortunately, I have discovered that there are too many procedures to follow in filing a case not to mention the issue of the scanning of the processes for the purpose of digitalizing the entire process of cases which has caused its own delays. Our research showed that there are about 11 steps to follow in order to file a case in our courts and each step has its pitfalls and that is where the opportunity for corruption thrives.

As long as a procedure requires the interface of a person, there is an opportunity for corruption to thrive. So how do we solve this problem of Corruption in our Courts? Note, I only gave an example of the filing processes without going into details, there are other areas like, bail applications, Court registrars request for money to produce court rulings and orders, obtaining hearing notices, execution of orders and other administrative issues.

The BAR

Lawyers are the first and last line of defense in the prevalence of corruption in our judiciary this is especially so because every judge or magistrate is first a lawyer and it is from the BAR they are appointed into the Judiciary.

Lawyers in litigation practice have the power to change things because they are the ones who bring cases to court. Very few lay persons approach the Courts on their own and even if they are frustrated in their efforts, they can still get lawyers to fight their cause probono.

Unfortunately lawyers are part of the community, they have needs and they are subject to the economic conditions of our nation. They are mere humans but are they? A lawyer should perceive himself as a social crusader, one who understands history and uses his acquired knowledge to enhance the development in the community. A lawyer is a professional, a catalyst, a reformer, an initiator, an advisor and a thinker. He has knowledge of things of a social construction that forms behaviour and institutions. Can a lawyer STOP corrupt practices in our Judicial system? YES HE CAN!

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However, one lawyer may not be able to accomplish this but a community of lawyers under the Nigerian Bar Association CAN! Which brings us to the question: Then why haven’t they? My response is simple; THE LEADERS OF THE NBA DO NOT YET UNDERSTAND THEIR ROLE IN GOOD GOVERNANCE AND ACCOUNTABILITY 

The BENCH:

The Bench on the other hand has done a lot (SOME MAY DISAGREE and understandably so) to improve justice delivery and curb corrupt practices within its ranks. However, there remains a few sensitive issues still unresolved within the Judiciary one of which is inadequate compensation for Judges, Magistrates and Judicial staff which has a direct link to the prevalence of corrupt practices within the Judiciary. Essentially, the lack of proper funding of the Judiciary has held it ransom to the whims and caprices of political elites

The new Chief Judge of Lagos State recently read out the riot act to all judiciary officials at the 2017/2018 new legal year declaring that it is not business as usual. The Chief Justice of Nigeria as well is also doing a few things to curb Corruption within the judiciary. The Bench in all states need to intensify its anti-corruption stance by putting up anti-corruption posters in and around the Courts for the benefit of all and to create a channel through which members of the public can complain/report if an attempt is made to extort money from them just as the Chief Judge of Lagos State has done.

The working relationship between the BENCH and the BAR needs to improve. They both have to work together to protect the integrity of the Judiciary and restore public confidence in our justice delivery sector. Judges/Magistrates are quick to forget that they are lawyers (not a higher form of lawyers). They forget that they are products of the BAR and they will return to the BAR after their service as CIVIL SERVANTS. It is the Office they occupy that gives them the power and authority to act in the capacity as Judges and Magistrates thus they need to remind themselves that we are all cut from the same cloth. This change in attitude will go a long way in mending fences and promote a cordial relationship between the Bar and the Bench. The Bar must revere the Bench and do all that is within its power to protect it from political manipulations and public interference.

For some time now; Judicial activism has been somewhat lacking within the Judiciary. There is need for Judges/Magistrate to search deep within themselves as lawyers to reactivate the principles upon which this our noble profession is hinged and not to have “a save my job” mentality.

There still remains the thorny issue of JUDICIAL ADMINISTRATION/MANAGEMENT. Administrative issues such as service of court processes, issuance of hearing notices, obtaining orders of Court, enforcement of orders; notification to lawyers when a Judge/Magistrate will not be sitting etc remains largely unresolved. While the new CPR and the introduction of the JIS has cured some mischief, its under-utilization gives us some concern as the same JIS can be used by Judges and Magistrates to issue hearing notices and to notify lawyers if there are any changes to the schedule of their cases. The rules also provide for the appointment of process servers but that rule has still not been utilized to curb the excesses of the Court Sheriffs.

Ministry of Justice Interventions

While the Ministry of Justice uses its vast resources to improve the criminal justice system there is still much that can be done. The OPD, CMC, PAC, Mobile Courts and other ministry of justice innovations should be given more attention and perhaps more force of law to its operations. But I take caution here to state that the current state of affairs is that some of these organs and initiatives are used more to generate revenue and further cause hardship on citizens. This must stop!

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The Magistrate Court in Lagos and Challenges in Eradicating Corrupt Practices:

While my focus in this exposition is the Magistrate Courts, some of it may apply to all Court structures in Nigeria. I will approach this by stating our weakest points (in no particular order) and proffer possible solutions. The various corrupt acts are well known TO US so we won’t waste time restating them here:

  1. JUDICIAL PERSONNEL:

How does the Judiciary employ its personnel/staff? What are the basic requirements for qualification as a Magistrate, Registrar, Secretary, Clerk, IT personnel etc? What structures are in place for oversight, discipline etc? Who decides what, when and how? Answering some of these questions will give us a better understanding of the problem. I have taken the pains to find out the answers to these questions and have come to a part conclusion that NEPOTISM is in play within our Judiciary.

SOLUTION:

  • There is need for a complete review of the internal policies directing the affairs the Judiciary – A comprehensive look at its Modus Operandi. We also need to create multi-level and independent oversight committees made up of people who are elected into such committees (as appointments are no longer tenable in our porous polity.)
  • The State Judicial Service Commissions should be reconstituted. I would suggest strongly that a sitting Chief Judge should not serve on that commission at least not as a principal member but perhaps; as an ex-officio. Members of the Commission must also be elected and not appointed
  1. NIGERIAN BAR ASSOCIATION AND ITS MEMBERS:

It is unfortunate that the NBA and its members are largely the main antagonist to the anti-corruption struggle. YES! We Lawyers are the major detractors. Our refusal to change our attitude is destructive and counter-productive. Some Lawyers are more than happy to give a bribe, but what is more worrisome is that some judicial officers/staff are an extension of some law firms.

Some Magistrates are silent partners in law firms, some registrars, clerks, sheriffs; prosecutors are contract staff of some law firms. Some lawyers just walk into the registry and pay a registry staff to file his processes, ensure service and do whatever is necessary to bring his file/case before a Magistrate in good time. Some Court officials are paid to inform on which litigant has approached the Court without a lawyer for the purpose OF sourcing litigants while others are paid to cast doubts in the minds of some litigants about the ability of their lawyer to do the job so that they can STEAL the brief for their preferred lawyer.

I have painstakingly done my investigations and observed with deep regret the way we lawyers harm each other in this profession.

SOLUTION:

  • NBA needs to re-organize its priorities, act as a safe-guard against corrupt practices by taking out disciplinary actions against lawyers known to undermine the integrity of the Court and abuse their professional calling as Lawyers
  • The NBA must Push for reform in the appointment of Judges/Magistrates, insist on transparency in the appointment process and have a sit on every committee established within the Judiciary (it is highly recommended that all Chairmen of Branches are made automatic members of the State Judicial Service Commission)
  1. MINISTRY OF JUSTICE (EXECUTIVE ARM)/ JUDICIARY INTERFACE:

I discovered that the Ministry of Justice has over 500 lawyers on its pay roll (not to mention the more than 50 lawyers who are Local Council Development Area in-house counsels), they also have quite a few law firms under retainer which makes me wonder why there is never enough funds to employ more magistrates and judges (although judges are not strictly under State government payroll – a discussion for another time). Why should the judiciary in Lagos have less than 300 Judges and Magistrate while the Ministry of Justice (a section of the Executive arm of Government) has over 500? It is further worrisome that the Ministry of Justice has indirectly usurped some of the powers of the Judiciary and in some cases now control the activities of some Courts under the guise of Special Courts. I won’t bother going into the problems relating to the financial independence of the Judiciary or the so called “recommendation” policy/law requiring the Executive and the Legislator to approve a Magistrate or Judge – what has become the norm here is that the politicians have their say and share “slots” thereby compromising and undermining the independence of the Judiciary

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SOLUTION

I find it very difficult to proffer a solution here. I must admit that in my vast experience in, exposure to best international practices and my actual presence in over 30 nations (mostly in Africa) Nigeria is not the only country that has these challenges. However, during my visit to a Court in New York, I can take a calculated guess to say that the city of New York alone has at least one Judge to every 5 to 10 lawyers. In a state like Lagos with all the improvements made by the past Governors/Leaders and the current Governor, I find it unacceptable that Judicial Reform is so slow and almost seems non-existent.

The Lagos State Judiciary has no doubt set the pace when it comes to many procedural and law reform techniques that have made things easier for court users but its epileptic relationship with the Executive and sometimes the Legislative arm of governments have stalled the implementation of many excellent ideas for restructuring the Judiciary.

My only solution here is to have a dedicated committee of experts to review the current relationship structures, look at areas where the activities of the MOJ interjects or overlaps with that of the Judiciary amongst other politically sensitive areas of interaction.

We cannot continue to avoid the touchy issues, we cannot have the attitude of “business as usual”, we cannot sit back and say “I don’t want to offend those in power” those in power sought the votes of the ordinary people on the streets that are mostly affected by an inefficient, corrupt and weakened Judiciary and NBA.

I need to let us know that there are many judicial officers, lawyers and others who are standing their ground against corruption within and outside the system. These people need more support. If you are still on the fence, I appeal to you to be a voice and stand your ground. Report corrupt practices, resist it, insist on prompt and efficient services from the Court registry, don’t be intimidated by anyone and insist on seeing the person in charge if confronted with any unusual demands. The Chief Magistrate and all Magistrates in each magisterial district are equipped to answer all your queries/Complaints – They are your colleagues (if you are a lawyer) and are there to ensure that Justice is done!

Fight Against Corruption In the Judiciary is a national watchdog group set up by Bayo Akinlade, Esq. within the Facebook Community to Resist, Record and Report all acts of Corruption within the Judiciary. Its aim is also to proffer policy recommendations that will reduce the scourge of corruption within the most revered arm of Government. 

Bayo Akinlade Esq. has held executive positions in the past in the Lagos and Ikorodu Branches of the NBA. He has travelled to over 30 countries on 4 continent while working as Staff Counsel and Africa Liaison for Advocates International Inc. USA. He has attended numerous international conferences and meetings including African Union and United Nations General Sessions. Bayo has had the opportunity of addressing leaders from over 50 Countries around the world and has consulted on various issues concerning Human and Religious Rights.

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