In a bid to aid the speedy dispensation of justice, the Lagos State Judiciary will be embarking on a court decongestion process which will rid the High Courts of old cases, some of which date back 20 years.
Justice Opeyemi Oke, the Chief Judge of Lagos State said this at the inauguration of the Committee on Old cases in Ikeja High Court, Lagos.
Justice Oke, in her speech, said it was not heartwarming that Lagos had the highest number of cases that were pending to be heard in the country.
The Chief Judge said that President Muhammadu Buhari in a 2017 speech, had pointed out the high back log of old cases in Lagos courts.
She noted that about 376 of such cases, most of which dated back over 20 years, have been identified for review in the State High Courts and may be referred to Alternate Dispute Resolution (ADR) for adjudication.
“It is on record that the Lagos State Judiciary has cases that date back to 20 years and beyond.
“This image, if it persists, is hazardous to the economic wellbeing of the State and Nigeria ultimately.
“In fact, His Excellency, President Muhammadu Buhari, while declaring open the Bi-Annual Conference of All Nigeria Judges of the Superior Courts held between Nov. 20 and Nov. 24, 2017 and organised by the National Judicial Institute, Abuja noted the fact that the Lagos State Judiciary had the highest number of pending old cases.
“This situation apparently damages the brand of a “Global Lagos’’ and one which I do not intend to see continue.
“Global Lagos requires and truly deserves a world class judicial system,’’ she said.
Justice Oke said that in a bid to proffer a solution to the backlog, the state judiciary will undertake a review of all pending matters on a case-by-case basis.
“This will determine the suitability of each case for Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR),’’ she said.
Justice Oke said that a review of the 376 old cases which commenced on Jan. 22 had revealed the probable causes of delay, and the delays were classed into three categories.
The Chief Judge said: “Inefficient case management by counsel accounts for 45per cent; Court indisposition and interlocutory appeals account for 20 per cent.
“The cause of delay of the outstanding 35 per cent has been ascribed to other factors which include numerous indulgent interlocutory applications.
“Others are: courts going on national assignments in Election Tribunals and official assignments for conferences and trainings for months, protracted Case Management Conference, Multiplicity of interlocutory applications, Long adjournments, Trial having to commence de novo when a Judge is elevated or retires, amongst others’’.
The Chief Judge said measures have been put in place to eradicate the delays impeding the progress of the cases.
Justice Oke said Justice S.B.A Candide-Johnson will chair an ad-hoc committee which will focus on discarding old cases in furtherance of the Backlog Elimination Programme (BEP) of the Lagos State Judiciary.
The Chief Judge, in her speech, said a lot of law firms have volunteered their services for forensic screening of old cases and that efforts are being made to clear the backlog of old cases in the Magistrates’ Courts.
“The Magistrates’ Courts are not left in the bandwagon in this Backlog Elimination Programme.
“Efforts are currently being made to set up fast track and small claims units at the Magisterial level,’’ she said.
Justice Oke solicited the cooperation of members of the public and lawyers to make the BEP work.
“Let us come together to confront the monster of backlog and set the pace in judicial service excellence in Lagos State.
“This will aid to achieve a sufficient level of access to justice for the purpose of maintaining or improving the quality of the judicial system as a whole and the restoration of public trust in the judiciary,’’ she added.