Okay, I admit that even in 2018, I am still hung up on the subject of litigation funding for the poor and impecunious amongst us. It occupied my thoughts in 2017, and now it still haunts me in 2018. All the merriment and conviviality of the yuletide season served little to drown my thoughts of the subject.
It is always a huge dilemma. How to either charge a poor person legal fees or to turn such a person away for impecuniosity, even though he has a good or even great case.
Make no mistake about it. Legal services is expensive. Litigating a case can cost Hundreds of Thousands or even millions of Naira. For starters, lawyers do not come cheap. As a client, the more money you have, the more legal expertise you can buy. I do not kid you, but your lawyer’s level of expertise can often dictate the difference success or failure of your law suit. Some lawyers are game changers. But their charges are way out of this world. Sometimes in hundreds of millions of Naira.
Then you add Court fees. Over time, these have increasingly gone up in all areas. In Federal Courts like the Federal High Court, National Industrial Courts, Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court, the Federal Government’s introduction of the Remita platform for collection of fees hiked up the costs of filing processes. For starters, before you can file any process, you must first pay between Five Hundred and One Thousand Naira to generate a Remita code. Then you transport yourself to the bank to pay into a designated federal government account, before you can return to the Court to commence the arduous and exhausting process of filing the papers. Often times, the Remita or Bank internet connection will be poor. But no remedy. You need to return to the bank as many times as necessary until you succeed.
Imagine if a lawyer travelled from his base, say Lagos, to Osogbo in Osun State to file processes, and then the internet connection to generate Remita code does not work out as expected. What then? Well, no remedy. Such a lawyer has to remain in Osogbo until he succeeds, with increased costs of hotel accommodation, etc. Guess who bears all these costs? You guessed right! The hapless clients. So, tell me, if you will, how a poor person can afford such costs.
State Courts, on their parts, seems resolved not to be outdone by their federal counterpart in the madness to increase litigation costs. Somehow, they too have found a way to impose unbearable financial burdens on the poor among us. One or two States, as examples, will suffice to illustrate the point.
In Lagos State, for starters, the cost of filing court cases is up, high up. Then, as if that was not enough, the Judiciary introduced a stamp which every person who intends to file a process must purchase. Cost? An extra N250. A form of tax, but with no legislation or Practice Direction undergirding it. Just like that. If you refuse to pay for the useless Stamp, your process will not be accepted for filing by the Judiciary staff.
One really angry Lagos lawyer recently sued the Honourable Chief Judge of Lagos State plus the Chief Registrar and others challenging the legality of the stamp fees. He wants the sale discontinued posthaste. Predictably, the Court administration will do battle against him, insisting on their right to milk the poor. The Centre of Excellence has become the Centre of Exploitation.
Now let us examine another rogue state: Delta State. Delta State did not bother to hide its unrighteous avarice. No. The State simply increased all court fees by more than One Thousand Percent. For example, an Affidavit which used to cost One Hundred Naira now costs a Thousand Naira. Motions which hitherto Five Hundred Naira to file now cost Five Thousand. Ditto with other Court processes. Talk about merchandising the judicial process. The Big Heart State has transmogrified into the Big Hater of the Poor.
I could continue in perpetuity, but I believe the point has been made. Or maybe I should just clarify that the judicial message seems to be that the poor are not welcome in our temples of justice. Just like that place of worship where Housemaids are not permitted in the Auditorium.
But the poor also need to litigate their cases in Court, and they must fund such cases. Otherwise, aggrieved litigants will seek recourse in violent reprisals against perceived opponents.
Every responsible society realizes this and therefore makes adequate provision for the poor to fund their cases. Nigeria must also do the same.
(Dele Igbinedion Esq. is the Principal Partner of ‘Dele Igbinedion Chambers’. For comments and enquiries, Telephone/Whatsapp: 08059863558)LITIGATION FUNDING FOR THE POOR