Parties to a case and their counsel ought to not pay any money in order to get a copy of the judgment delivered by the court in their own case. With due respect, it is a gross violation of the rights of the parties and their counsel, for the Court to require any of them to pay any money before they can have access to the judgment of the court in their own case. Section 294(1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, provides that “Every court established under this Constitution shall deliver its decision in writing not later than ninety days after the conclusion of evidence and final addresses and furnish all parties to the cause or matter determined with duly authenticated copies of the decision within seven days of the delivery thereof”. Similarly, section 36 (7) of the same Constitution requires that “… the accused person or any persons authorized by him in that behalf shall be entitled to obtain copies of the judgement in the case within seven days of the conclusion of the case”. It is submitted that the court has a duty to make a copy of the judgement available to the parties free of charge either in the open court on the date of judgment or through the bailiffs within 7 days of the judgment, or through email or other virtual platforms (the last is most preferable).
I understand that a judgment of a court is a public document, accessible to any interested member of the general public, and I understand why some fees need to be paid by any member of the public who applies for a HARD certified/authenticated copy of an order/judgement of the court in a particular case; so many persons may so apply and the court officials may not have sufficient funds to reproduce the judgment (in hard copies) for all who may be interested in having a copy of it.
However, I submit, it is legally abominable, morally unjustifiable, commonsensically awkward and unreasonable for any court or for court officials to demand payment of any money from any litigant/counsel in the case for that purpose.
Judgement is read in the open court. But it’s unreasonable to expect that Counsel and Litigants in the matter would have already got all details of the judgement in the court during the time of delivery of the judgment. They obviously don’t have the details. This being the case, the court has a duty to make available to the parties, duly authenticated copies of the judgment. This must be done free of any charge and within the time stipulated by law, or where no time is stated, within a reasonable time. Time is of the essence here. Failure to do this is a gross breach of the fundamental rights of the affected parties and a violation of due process, rule of law and the interest of justice.
In the Eyitayo Jegede v. Olurotimi Akeredolu case, judgement was delivered by the Supreme Court on 28 July 2021(see Supreme Court Upholds Akeredolu’s Election: July 28, 2021:channelstv.com.To the best of my knowledge and honest belief, the apex court did not give or send a copy of the judgement to any party or counsel in the case. A leading Counsel to the 3th and 4th respondents told me that he had on his own applied and paid for a copy of the judgment. He was not given a copy until on August 04, 2021 when he got an uncertified copy.
With due respect, our Courts, from the Supreme Court to the lowest court, are grossly underperforming; they’re busy with needless amendments to Rules of Court and with issuance of needless and legally groundless Practice Directions, rather face the real issues presently holding down this profession and the entire system of justice administration and dispensation. We must call a spade by its name.
By the way, why not the court sends a copy of the judgment through the court’s official email to (all the litigants and) the lawyers in the case? Why not we expect to see a copy of every judgment of court posted on the court’s website within within 24 hours or not later than Seven days from the date of the judgement? Why not? Are these not where the world is at present? Why are we left behind in everything? Is it that we don’t have funds to get things done right or that we don’t have the foresight to see that only the right things should be done, or that “fantastic” corruption has taken away the money we need to have things done right? Where in a civilized, developed 21st-century-compliant country, are parties still queuing up in the court’s registry to apply for, pay through the nose (typical of Nigeria) to obtain a copy of judgments of court in their own case? Should we not at least upgrade– even if it’s one step forward? What does it take the court to send a copy of its own judgement to litigants? These judgments are typed in computers, and are in SOFT copies! So, why not, after reading the judgment, the court causes a soft copy of the judgment to be transmitted virtually to the litigants or their counsel? It was the Supreme Court of Nigeria which in 2020 endorsed virtual court proceedings (see AG LAGOS v AG Federation, SUIT NO: SC/CV/260/2020) the implication of which endorsement is that virtually everything in court could thenceforth be done virtually. With due respect, why then won’t the Supreme Court itself lead by example by kick-starting the virtual things, even if it’s from the peripheral things? Sending hearing notices virtually to parties! Serving court processes virtually on parties! Sending copies of its judgments virtually to litigants! Hearing certain motions virtually and sending rulings virtually!
What’s the difficulty in these things? From the way I see them, especially sending judgment, it takes only a click of the button in a computer or phone! And the SC judgement in AG LAGOS V. AG FEDERATION (2020) as well as section 84 of the Evidence Act, 2011 both and each gives us the security we need to proceed without fear. Yet,we have chosen to not proceed! Now, I ask, is Nigeria operating under some curse that has become impossible to vacate? What sort of prayer is necessary to get the most basic and simple things to start working in Nigeria? Is there any country on the face of planet earth, that is experiencing the type of excruciating situation Nigeria is going through at the present time?
Our progress will start when we choose to make progress. As of today, August 06, 2021, Nigeria is still asleep and slumbering away its time while the rest of the world is awake, working and walking ahead! God help Nigeria!
Respectfully,. Sylvester Udemezue (udems)