A group of lawyers under the aegis of Citizens Rally against Oppression, led by the former Chairman of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) Ikeja Branch, Mr. Adesina Ogunlana have filed a suit challenging the over 1000% proposed increase in filing fees in the New High Court of Lagos State (Civil Procedure) Rules, 2018.
The Suit with Suit No: Temp/41648/2018 was brought by Originating Summons against the Chief Judge of Lagos State, Honourable Justice Opeyemi Oke and the Chief Registrar of the Lagos High Court.
The questions set for consideration by the court in the suit are:
- Whether in the exercise of powers of the first defendant to make Rules of Procedure for the High Court of Lagos State, the first defendant who is also sworn to uphold the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 may not exercise same in line with the provisions and intendment of the same 1999 constitution (as amended);
- Whether in the exercise of the powers of the first defendant to make Rules of Procedures for the High Court of Lagos State in civil matters, the first defendant can make rules which by reason of its financial stipulates that have the effect of denying the ordinary citizens of Nigeria public, easy and ready access to the High Court of Lagos State for redress or otherwise reduce their greater accessibility to the High Court of Lagos State;
- Whether the first defendant being the Chief Judicial Officer of Lagos State has any responsibility under the constitution of the Federal Republic, which constitution she sworn to uphold, put in place measures that guarantee easy and ready access to the High Court of the State to citizens and residents of Nigeria in Lagos State irrespective of their status, gender, class, financial standing, education, religion etc for judicial resolution of disputes;
- Whether in the exercise of the powers of the first defendant to make Rules of Procedure for the High Court of Lagos State, the first defendant is at liberty to exclude consideration of the socio-economic realities of Nigeria in general and of Lagos State in particular considering the position of the judicial institution as a pillar of society for peace, security, and orderliness;
- Whether in the exercise of her powers, the first defendant can contravene section 41 of the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to make rules discriminatory of the legal community and by the effect of such rules, declare a war on the trade or act in disdain of the trade of members of the legal community, to wit, legal practitioners;
- Whether wherein the exercise of the powers of the first defendant to make Rules of Procedure for the High Court, the first defendant rules imposing; Minimum sum of N250,000:00 against counsel for unpreparedness to open trial for whatever reason; The increment of late filing fees from N200.00 to N1,000:00 per day; The upward review of general filing fees by 500-1000 per cent; such rules or provisions can be said to be in consonance with the constitution of the Federal Republic and guarantees easy and ready access to the High Court of the state,
And if the court answers the above question in favour of the Claimants, the following reliefs were sought:
- A declaration that the first defendant is duty bound in her official capacity to act in accordance with the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (1999 as amended).
- A declaration that the first defendant in making rules for the regulation and practice and procedures, and for such rules to be lawful, valid, and binding, such rules must be in conformity with the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
- A declaration that the proposed High of Lagos State (Civil Procedure) Rule 2018 as presently contemplated by the defendants to include 500-1000 percent increase in filing fees, upward review of late filing fees from N200.00 to N1000.00 per day, and imposition of fees of N100,000.00 or N250,000.00 cost personally against counsel, the legal representatives of litigants is oppressive and will serve to deny the claimant, his clients, and members of the litigating public easy access to the High Court of Lagos State and is as such improper, unlawful, unconstitutional, null and void.
It would be recalled that, the Honourable Chief Judge had set up a committee to review the 2012 High Court Rules. Some of the significant changes proposed in the new rules which the CJ indicated were targeted at tackling delays in the courts are; the introduction of punitive costs to be awarded against lawyers who fail to show up in court for their cases or show up to request frivolous adjournments for lack of preparation; Cost of N100,000 minimum penalty for a lawyer who unjustifiably scuttles a court hearing and N50,000 for one who scuttles the hearing of an interlocutory application; the default fee for late filing of court processes will increase from N200 per day to N1,000 per day; empowering a judge to strike out a suit where no action is taken by the parties in six months; final written addresses to be limited to 20 pages and reply on point-of-law to five pages; acceptance of “all verifiable means of electronic communications” for serving court processes by substituted means.
The Citizens Rally against Oppression had earlier in November protested against the proposed amendment.
The suit has not been assigned to a court.