COMMUNIQUE ISSUED AT THE END OF THE 2-DAY STAKEHOLDERS’ SUMMIT ORGANISED BY THE LAGOS STATE MINISTRY OF JUSTICE ON ADMINISTRATION OF JUSTICE 2017 HELD AT THE EKO HOTEL & SUITES FROM JANUARY 30TH – 31ST, 2017
In a further attempt to reform the Justice Sector, the Lagos State Ministry of Justice held a Two–Day Stakeholders’ Summit on the theme: Contemporary Trends; Catalysts For Justice Sector Reform In Lagos State from the 30TH to 31ST January 2017 at Eko Hotel & Suites, Victoria Island, Lagos.
The Summit was a platform to brainstorm and discover more innovative ways to improve the effectiveness, accessibility, efficiency, transparency, performance and management of the existing justice infrastructure in order to meet the justice needs of the populace of Lagos State.
It provided an opportunity to examine the current challenges and analyse prospective reforms that will improve justice delivery and build the confidence of the public in justice administration.
It was also intended, and it succeeded in creating a platform for a critical appraisal of the recent civil litigation reforms, the administration of criminal justice system, the effectiveness of our current court administration and ADR mechanisms and the fusion of prosecutorial and investigative powers in one law enforcement agency. With Reforms in the state’s justice delivery system being an absolute necessity, attention is now focused more on systems rather than the Judiciary as hitherto witnessed.
As Africa’s fastest growing city, Lagos citizens should have unhindered access to qualitative and reliable justice delivery system with a fully automated judiciary. Therefore, after identifying the key issues and challenges in justice administration in Lagos State by key-speakers in the plenary and panellist sessions, the Summit resolved as follows:-
- There is a need to conduct a process and organisational audit of the machinery of Court system in order to understand the cause of delay at pre-proceedings stages, and examine the robustness and responsiveness of the system.
- The Summit recommends that the appointment of an independent professional Court Administrator for the administration, management and maintenance of the Courts has become an imperative for efficiency in the court system. Similarly, the system must challenge itself by critically examining the role of the Chief Registrar in the administration of the Court along this line.
- In view of the pivotal role of Court officials in the efficient running of the court, Justice Sector must design a detailed operational manual and ideal methodology for court officials; Registrars and Bailiffs for court administration and publish such manuals online for all to see, including lawyers. The Registrars and other court officials must also be adequately trained and retrained in management, research and implementation of Rules and due process.
- The potentials of e-technology have not been fully exploited by the Lagos State Judiciary. Hence, the need to establish a fully automated judiciary, unlike the filing and scanning of hard copy document as presently done. Judgments of the Lagos High Court ought to be made available online for ease of access by lawyers, researchers, students, etc. from any part of the world.
- A robust case management system, timelines, time management, and ideal length of proceedings should be created and the adoption of public-private collaboration in order to overcome budgetary constraints in the court system.
- The Law Reform Commission’s Research and Development Unit should be populated and manned by lawyers from the Ministry of Justice or encouraged to work closely with lawyers in the Ministry, and a Justice Sector development plan set for five years in the first instance.
- Judges who are elevated to the higher bench ought to be permitted to complete part-heard cases instead of cases being heard de novo. Inter-divisional transfer of cases should also be provided for.
- Court support staff and other court officials should be included as stakeholders in justice sector in Lagos State and to be invited to participate in future summits.
- Judges should make the summary of their judgments available to litigants almost immediately after delivering same, and ask parties to apply for the Certified True Copies (CTC) thereafter.
- The need to adopt a consensus on funding the judiciary including establishing an independent Judicial Benefits and Compensation Commission appointed by the President in consultation with State Governors to undertake a comprehensive review of salaries, allowances and benefits of all Judicial Officers in Nigeria including lower court judges.
- The Summit also recommended the establishment of a Police Court Unit for the enforcement of court judgments to be manned by an Assistant Commissioner of Police who should be responsible to the Chief Judge.
- Day to day trials should be encouraged in all courts in the State in order to minimize delays.
- Appointment of judges should be reviewed to ensure merit and excellence supersedes ethnicity.
- Special ADR dedicated courts should be created in the State.
- The Judiciary must re-visit the practice direction which hiked filing fees, so as not to take justice out of the reach of the poor and deny them access to justice.
ETHICS AND PROFESSIONAL CONDUCT
- Pupillage is absolutely essential and must be encouraged to aid professional competence as well as keep lawyers abreast of the rules of Professional Conduct, while unethical practice by lawyers must be sanctioned.
- Appointment of judges should be solely on merit while periodic comparative analysis to critically assess judicial officers with a view to upholding the ethical standard required of the bench must be undertaken.
- Unethical lawyers should be disciplined to restore confidence in the legal profession.
- The Fast Track System should be strengthened and provision for inter divisional transfer of cases be made available.
- In order to attract Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) must be made effective, reliable and attractive to parties. Current platforms for ADR should be evaluated and strengthened to enhance speedy resolution of disputes, and ensure Arbitral Awards are not challenged beyond the Court of Appeal.
- Land titles and ownership should be made verifiable online, so that citizens can determine title by checking and confirming the history of the land online.
- Judgments of the Lagos High Court should be put online for ease of access by lawyers, researchers, students, etc. from any part of the world.
- Probate matters should be settled within three months to ameliorate the suffering of the families of the deceased.
CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM
- The State must design and adopt a witness protection programme in Criminal prosecutions. The existing Witness Support Unit in the Lagos State Ministry of Justice must be strengthened and ultimately institutionalized to include protection programme in order to further aid prosecutions, ensure security of witnesses and guarantee evidence of witnesses. There is also a need to encourage witnesses in criminal proceedings to attend court in order to avoid undue delay. To this end, the Witness Support Unit must have capacity for provision of video-conferencing to enable Juveniles and threatened witnesses testify from outside the court.
- To ensure more uniform sentencing, a Sentencing council should be established that would periodically issue guidelines for Judges and Magistrates. Specifically, plea-bargain having been found to be effective, should be frequently adopted by the state to achieve speedy substantive justice.
- The increasing number of Juveniles in the Criminal Justice System has necessitated the need to issue clear guidelines in respect of the trial of Juveniles.
- There is an urgent need to remove the ambiguity provided in the Child Rights’ Law relating to the exclusive jurisdiction for the trial of the Child Offender and that the procedure should be clearly laid out in the law.
- Summit recommends to the Lagos State Criminal Justice Committee to appoint a Chief Visitor of Prisons to conduct inspections on a regular basis, respond to complaints, investigate deaths in custody and publish independent regular findings of his work and make appropriate recommendations for action to the National Council of States.
- Quite a number of trials are delayed because defendants jump bail and sureties are not held accountable. There is therefore a need to lay down proper procedure and guidelines for forfeiture of recognizance.
- It was agreed that another cause of delay is the incessant transfer of Investigative Police Officers. To resolve this, the prospect of State Police should be given serious consideration.
- Several cases are struck out due to poor investigation. The merger of Investigative and Prosecutorial functions like what exists in the EFCC should be extended to other agencies. This would also reduce the need for Trial-Within-Trials while conducting cases.
- The deplorable state of the Prisons was identified as a major cause for concern. There is an urgent need for a thorough overhauling of the Prison System.
- The Case management system for Criminal cases is still a far cry from International best practices. It was agreed that the Criminal Justice system should as much as possible be fashioned after the Singaporean system where they practice full front loading of documents and day to day trial.
- Indicators for performance management and improved justice delivery should be developed with clear guidelines created with respect to criminal justice of juveniles.
- The Summit also emphasized the importance of forensic and DNA evidence and justified why it should be embraced in criminal justice administration.
- The State should lead a dialogue on the desirability of having State Police in the country.
- Day to day trials should be encouraged in all courts in the state to minimize delays.
- Participants examined the present trends and urged the Lagos State Government to explore more innovative ways of access to justice, enhance an effective justice delivery system, foster performance and management of the existing justice infrastructure in order to meet the justice needs of the 21st century.
- Participants agreed to tackle the delay in the administration of justice in Nigeria and particularly in Lagos State, with a view to restoring confidence of the business community and foreign investors in the country, and develop a responsive system.
- Participants agreed that it is desirable to re-orientate court officials and the adjunct staff in the judiciary in a bid to cultivate fresh attitudes that would facilitate speedy dispensation of justice.
- Participants resolved that Lagos State Government should institutionalize a robust case management system and other allied techniques to reduce the workload on judges and also fast track sound justice delivery system.
- In order to overcome the challenges of tardy prosecution of cases requiring electronic evidence, forensic and DNA evidence, participants resolved to embrace the use of E-Technology so as to advance the country’s legal system.
- A five year strategic and development plan for the entire justice sector in Lagos State should be developed and effectively pursued along with the institutionalization of International best practices in order to achieve more innovative ways of procuring access to justice for Lagosians.
- There should be periodic retreat for Law Officers in Lagos State.
- To immediately set-up an implementation Committee to faithfully implement the resolutions and proposals from this summit.
Photographs of participants taken at the 2017 Stakeholders Summit.
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