By HW Emmanuel J. Samaila, Esq.
In her paper titled, “Ratio Decidendi and Judicial Precedent”, Halima Doma Kutigi, PhD, MCIArb (UK) quoted the editorial to Part 1 of the Lagos High Court Reports (250) 1 LHCR, thus:
“Most cases do not go beyond the High Courts and several important principles are initiated at this level and remain the Law, especially where not appealed. Where these judgments are not reported a whole body of legal principles is lost from our aggregation of legal knowledge. Reporting the decision of the High Court, is therefore an imperative.
Secondly, law reporting serves to highlight the tremendous industry and ingenuity of our High Court Judges…. It is easy to forget that most of the English decisions that we rely on even at the Appellate Court level, King’s Bench, Queen’s Bench and Chancery reports, are High Court judgments faithfully recorded in that country by those who recognize that the High Courts form the backbone of the Superior Courts of Record and consequently are of fundamental importance to the development of law.”
Same can be said of the decisions of courts of coordinate jurisdiction with the High Court and all lower courts in a State (Magistrates Courts, Customary Courts, Sharia Courts and Area Courts). Majority of these Courts are presided over by legal practitioners, some of whom have acquired post-graduate degrees in law and other fields of knowledge. Many of them have been on the lower bench for a time span of a few years to some decades. Unfortunately, the industry and ingenuity demonstrated by some of them in their decisions remain buried and forgotten in closed files in a cabinet at various court registries. Only an appeal gives visibility and some degree of relevance to his decision to their decisions. Apart from that, only a person, such a legal researcher, who has access to a certified true copy of the unreported decision, makes reference to the unreported decision. While the academics write papers to manifest their continuing legal education, decisions are the proofs of judges’ continuing judicial education.
While time and chance makes the elevation of some eminently qualified lower court judges to the High Court or its jurisdictional coordinates elusive, their passion for adjudication prevents them from quitting the Bench for other fields of legal practice.
The prevalence of reported cases from appellate Courts significantly diminishes the application of the doctrine of stare decisis within a State where superior Courts of record resolve disputes involving State’s laws (statutory, customary and or Sharia laws). The non-reporting or publication of these decisions robs the lower Courts in a State of the knowledge of the judicial interpretation of State laws thereby accentuating and perpetuating a continuously discrepant and arbitrary interpretation and application of the laws. For instance, if the decisions of State High Courts in criminal cases touching the provisions of the State’s penal and procedural law, such as the Administration of Criminal Justice Law (ACJL), were made easily and officially made accessible, this would have been significantly beneficial to the lower courts in their interpretation and application of the laws thereby entrenching harmony in the administration of criminal justice.
The need for State Judiciaries to devise a way of ensuring that the decisions are accessible online cannot be overemphasized. The ensuing benefits include:
Giving global visibility to their industrious and ingenious judges, an act laced with an inherent potential to provide further incentive to judges;
Exposing their hardworking judges to the world, thereby creating a possible path to higher duties which further incentivizes them;
Spurring lagging judges to be more committed to their duties;
Enhancing uniformity in the interpretation and application of State laws;
Providing stimulus for research and documentation of the development and impact of State laws; and
Creating access to necessary data and information for law reviews and amendments.
Hopefully, the lack of access to decided cases from State Courts will be a thing of the past as more calls are made on State Judiciaries to do the needful.
Samaila Emmanuel J. Upper Customary Court Judge, Kaduna State, Nigeria.