How Leaders of Nigeria’s Judiciary Dissipate Valuable Time on Irrelevancies to the Detriment of Effective, Efficient Administration of Justice (part 1) – Udemezue

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May I respectfully still maintain that the “NOTICE OF SWEARING IN OF NEW JUDGES” issued by the Kaduna State judiciary/government is a grossly unnecessary protocol/notice/advert, and serves no useful purpose. We all are already aware of the appointment of these judges. Why organize any special ceremonies for their swearing in? Why not swear them in in the CJ’s chambers or courtroom, and then post them to courts and assign cases to them so that they start work immediately? What is the motive behind giving “Notice of Swearing in?”Are they elected Governors being sworn in ? Why not our leaders come off all these needless shows, grandstanding and adverts that serve no real purpose; why not they learn to face true governance and to take seriously the business of leadership?

On that very day set aside for the advertised swearing-in ceremony of these New judges, the CJ of the state might close down all courts and then require all other judges to be in attendance at the event —- if this doesn’t happen this time, then it’s just because of COVID-19 social distancing. All cases for that day stand automatically adjourned. Who bears the brunt? Clients. ▪️Add this to the following: (1) Governor’s visitations day; no court sittings for days before and on that that date and the day after, because “the judiciary is preparing to receive Governor.” (2) Almost the whole of July in every year is wasted adjourning cases and preparing for the “annual vacation.” (3). End July to end of September in every year is wasted on “annual vacation. (4). End of September to early October in every year is wasted on “activities and ceremonies marking commencement of new Legal year.” All sorts of useless ceremonies and frivolous events. I ask myself, What would happen if by the end of the legal year, courts just begin sitting without those ceremonies? Would Nigeria collapse? Would justice cease to be justice? (5). There is the one they call, in Lagos, “settlement week.” No court sittings throughout the week. What for? (6). Then comes the judges’ annual conference. All doors close on court proceedings until conference is over and done with. (7). Easter Vacation consumes at least two weeks in every year. (8). Christmas vacation takes out another two weeks or more in each year. (9). Opening of new court complexes. Recently, all roads led to Asaba, then to Awka for commissioning of the newly-constructed Court of Appeal complexes Divisions in those states: “Justice Bulkachuwa unveils 17th Court of Appeal in Delta” (https://m.guardian.ng). “Appeal Court President, Bulkachuwa commissions new Anambra court” (https://www.google.com/amp/s/dailypost.ng). Why the unnecessary ceremonies? (10) industrial action may (indeed, do) sometimes come up. And for weeks, no court sitting. (11) Plus all sorts of other frolicking, distractions and unnecessary miscellaneous events and excuses that needlessly take the judges’ time away from serious adjudication business for which there were employed and being handsomely remunerated .

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Now, please subtract all these from the twelve months that we have in each one year, and then tell me what time we have left to hear and determine the tens and hundreds of thousands of cases pending in the various courts in Nigeria.

DO NOT GET ME WRONG: I am not saying judges should not go on break; all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. Besides, proper rest helps one to work more effectively and efficiently. But one month or not more than six weeks in each year, is not too short. Then you can add one week for each of Easter and Xmas. A total of about 2 month altogether. Isn’t this enough? Why would courts spend almost five months every year not sitting?

In the Lagos State judiciary, as an example, there are about 60 (sixty) high court judges, altogether having no fewer than 12,000 on their Cause List in every month. Multiply this number by the 12 (twelve) months in each year and tell me whether and tell me how any progress could be made with almost 5 months struck out from the time for court sittings every year. The wise, old, saying goes that “one whose house is on fire should not be pursuing rats.” Ironically, exactly that is what the leadership of the Nigerian judiciary is currently doing!

Cases filed as far back as 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 up to 2025, are still pending in the Lagos High and other Courts! How to speedy up hearing in order to decongest the courts and instill or regain people’s confidence in the administration of justice, is not our priority. Again, the rules of court provide for a 3-month Case Management Conference (CMC) (pretrial conference). How many CMC’s have lasted below six months to twelve months? Some even last more than 15 months. Why would there be CMC when the case has passed through what the Rules describe as *”ADR screening?” Is this not an unnecessary duplication since the ADR screening is meant to screen (out) cases that ought to not go for litigation? Then, it is argued that during the CMC, preliminary/interlocutory applications are taken to make the main trial seamless and uninterrupted. Ironically, experience has shown that more interlocutory applications are filed and taken during the main hearing then during the CMC. These applications, mostly frivolous, delay main trial, and frustrate the ends of justice. Then, one alludes to “settlement of issues” during the CMC! Really? Of what use is this exercise when the Rules od Court have made it clear that the CMC judge’s report is not binding on the trial judge? So, the trial court can throw away the issues formulated by the CMC judge and formulate new issues as he or she may choose. What about the time wasted from conclusion of the CMC to return of the case file to the CJ, assignment of the case file to a new judge?
Then, of what use is the CMC , especially in view of all these, considering that cases are hardly ever settled at that stage? I think very little.

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What’s more? Why would any serious court adjourn a case beyond one or two weeks? Yet, in our courts, cases are adjourned for as far as one month, two months, three months and even more. Look at the Supreme Court of Nigeria that ought to lead by example, it is worse; adjourning cases from year to year, with some getting up to 15-month adjournment or more. Yet the same court heard the UDEOGU appeal (in re ORJI UZOR KALU) within one month: “Breaking News: Supreme Court quashes conviction of Orji Kalu, others.” (https://www.sunnewsonline.com). Different strokes for similar situations. Someone said it’s because the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA), 2015, requires accelerated hearing of criminal cases and appeals. Why can’t the same requirement be made uniform, applying to both civil and criminal proceedings? Why can’t we adopt, for all regular court proceedings, the Election Petition style, whereby a case, say, a governorship petition, is concluded within a total mandatory period of twelve months from the trial court through the apex court? Are regular cases more complicated than election petitions? Experience has proven that the latter are much more complicated. If such mandatory requirements could be sustained in election petitions, why not in regular proceedings? Why must we keep litigants in court for years without any end in sight? How is that justice? Shouldn’t there be an end to litigation? Are we not aware that public confidence in the judiciary has badly dwindled? Most Clients now prefer to approach the Police, the army, thugs, louts, and hoodlums for simple recovery of debts and land disputes while most other clients take the law into their own hands, since going to court is, to majority of them, a “waste of time;” as the cases would be in court for years.

A couple of years ago, the Lagos judiciary claimed it had started E-Filing of cases. “E-Filing” means from your office, you send the processes, pay filing and service fees, and get your suit number assigned to your case the same day. If you or your secretary has to be physically present in the court premises for any aspect of the filing, even if it’s payment of fees, then that is not E-FILING. One can therefore safely say that, there is no court in Nigeria that does e-filing, as of today. The Lagos State judiciary is very far from E-FILING properly so called. Quote me!

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In the Lagos State judiciary, there is what they call “temporary suit number” and “permanent suit number.” Why would that duplication be? Why can’t you assign a permanent suit number to a suit as soon as it is filed? Why would I have to wait for two three weeks to get a permanent suit number? And thereafter wait for another one to three weeks to get the case assigned you a judge/court; and another one or two weeks to get the papers served (sorry for you in the hands of a bailiff); and then a 42-day period (in Lagos) for the defendant to react? Most times, the defendants comes out of time with loads of reasons.

Before the new filing system (so-called “E-System”) was introduced in Lagos, Lawyers used to file their cases and get suit numbers assigned instantly — same day.
The new system, that was purportedly brought in to “accelerate “ justice” has in reality dragged administration of justice far backwards, leaving us far worse than it had met us .

Instead of taking concrete steps and adopting honest measures to address all these ugly anomalies, we have now begun an unplanned peregrination into a “virtual hearing.” How would virtual court hearing help to accelerate justice dispensation, considering the immense obstacles it would face? Shouldn’t we do first things first? Where do we start?

The truth is our leaders hardly listen to or take advice. We do not want to call a stakeholders’ meeting to plan how to start deploying the internet and the ICT in the courts towards ensuring that they serve the purposes for which they are being deployed. We don’t want to do proper planning and due diligence to ensure effectiveness and efficiency in justice dispensation using the ICT. We don’t care; the unplanned peregrination must begin by all means! But, where it takes us to, we don’t care to consider. Workability, and practicability, we care less about. Our leaders and the “virtual hearing by all means” promoters advise that we keep our fingers crossed because “virtual hearing has come to stay.” Anyway, I cross mine fingers and siddon dey look

Respectfully,
SYLVESTER UDEMEZUE
(UDEMS)
(15/05/2020)

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