Technology: An Indispensable Tool for Justice in Nigeria

0

By Ewulum Ifechukwu Christopher

Introduction

Technology has shaped the way we go about our social life and daily activities. Nothing could be farther from the truth when it is realized that in our businesses, in our churches, in our education sector, in our hospitals and even in our electoral system, technology is now holding sway. Coming down to the justice system, the Nigerian situation has unfortunately worsened because our courts have remained tardy in adapting to technology by worshipping at the altar of conservatism and precedents. For a system that entails various levels of information gathering and processing of data among the actors in the system, stakeholders began to realize that our justice system is now standing comfortably in the relegation zone while other systems are advancing with technology. It is on this note that we, therefore, invite the attention of our audience to a remark made by Dr Babatunde Ajibade (S.A.N) during a 2-week conference held by Lawpavilion Business Solutions Ltd and Telnet thus “while there isn’t yet a national consensus about the adoption of technology, there needs to be more thinking about how technology can be harnessed to facilitate the delivery of justice, with the corresponding financial and human resources investments required…there are still significant pockets of technologically challenged members of the Bar and the Bench”.[1]

The above revelation by the distinguished Senior Advocate is just one side of the Rubik’s cube when it is observed that the failure to embrace technology completely in our justice system has added to a delayed justice system and equally affected the quality of our judgments. The frustrated common man who now obtains justice after so many years of bringing the matter to court may conclude that “the court is the lost hope of the common man”. Indeed, justice delayed is justice denied. It is against this background that this essay adopts the doctrinal research methodology to justify how technology is an essential tool for a justice system like ours. Of course, recommendations will consequently be preferred to bring home our points.

Getting on the Same Page on Terminology.

We will not be doing justice to this essay if we do not define some of the recurrent concepts or terms in other to bring our reader home with the discourse. Now, Britannica defines ‘technology’ as “the application of scientific knowledge to the practical aims of human life or, as it is sometimes phrased, to the change and manipulation of the human environment”.[2] In the legal field, when defined properly, technology is the application of the knowledge of science to support legal service and justice delivery. By a similar token, ‘Information and Communication Technology’ is also defined as technology that is used to handle communication systems such as audio-visual processing and transmission systems, and network-based control and monitoring functions.[3] Lastly, ‘Digital technology’ is the electronic tools or devices that store or process data.[4]

Is Technology an Indispensable for Justice in Nigeria?

ALSO READ   LAWSAN National Convention 2018: Registration Guidelines

The problem with the Nigerian justice system is multi-faceted and legendary. If there is any case that brings to notoriety the deficiencies in our justice system and the pressing need to embrace technology, it is the case of Fred Agudua and Charles Orie. What happened is that the duo collected defrauded a Dutch National, the sum of $1.69m (One million, Sixty-Nine thousand United States Dollars) in the guise that it was a payment to government officials to secure an $18 million contract that was not in existence elsewhere. They were arrested and charged by the Economic Financial Crime Commission (EFCC) but that is not all. On October 15th 2014, to the shock and dismay of all and sundry, the prosecutor informed the court of the inability to procure key foreign witnesses to testify in court and hence would like to discontinue the case.[5] That was how Fred Agudua and Charles Orie escaped justice despite the fact that at the time the case was discontinued by the prosecutor, there are video conferencing software like Skype, Zoom and even Facetime that can accelerate remote communication between people in different countries. Our courts were still dozing in the use of Digital Technology until they were struck by COVID-19. It was this 2020 pandemic that even made some judges wake up and start issuing practice directions that allowed virtual court sittings.

With the above analogy, we are certainly not out of the woods to say that technology can enhance the justice delivery system, ensure that research is made easy, promote e-filing and improve the quality of judgements in our courts. We shall now discuss these points in detail.

Enhanced and Speedy Justice Delivery System.

One thing that usually excites the mind when one visits a court in advanced countries is the way digital technology is employed at every stage to fast-track proceedings. Take Stenographers for example. The practice now is that these skilled set of people use their computers and other information technology to record and type the proceedings in a court. In Nigeria, the situation is nothing to write home about. The situation is like a snail on a journey of a thousand miles that never reaches its destination. You will visit some courts during internships to find some judges who interrupt lawyers and witnesses every minute just to record their statements. Little wonder, a proceeding that will take just 30 minutes will now last some hours. The consequence is that when the judge is exhausted from excessive note-taking, he will simply not have any options than finding ways to adjourn other cases he has for the day. This is just the tip of the iceberg. Moving further, it is shocking that in the 21st century that is being piloted by digital technology, one will still open recent judgements delivered by our appellate courts to hear that “justices of the Appeal Courts cannot interfere with the judgment of the trial court that borders on the demeanor of witnesses because there was no opportunity of observing the same”.[6]

ALSO READ   End Court Forum-Shopping

The question that agitates the mind is: why can’t the judges at the trial courts order the video recording of these witnesses when they are testifying in court to make it available upon request to the appeal court? What if the trial judge wrongly examined the demeanour of the witness in question? On scrutiny of these cases, this essayist suspects that this may be triggered by our courts’ sheepish worship of precedent and conservatism. for some who are not aware, the principle in the Nigerian Criminal Jurisprudence is that judges must venture into the additional time-wasting journey of trial-within-trial where the witness objects to the admissibility of a confessional statement if there is an objection as to its voluntariness.

With the additional time this procedure wastes, one wonders why law enforcement agencies who take confessional statements cannot simply video record the same to make it easy for judges to also have a first-hand experience of the taking of these confession statements. Now, one may argue that Section 15(4) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015 has made provisions for the video or audio recording of a confessional statement, yet one thing we should note is that the true interpretation of that section on whether it is mandatory to electronically record the taking of the confessional statement has been subject to forensic disputation and recondite such that there are divergent views on it. The first school of thought which is driven by the case of Charles v FRN hold that the failure to electronically record such a statement will render the whole procedure void.[7] The second school supported by Steve Emeka Ike v The State which anchored their points on the reasoning that “it is the Evidence Act that governs the admissibility of any documents and not on statutory requirements” holds that such requirement is not mandatory having not proceeding for the Evidence Act.[8]

Be that as it may, it could be gathered from the above discourse that technology can accelerate and enhance court proceedings if fully adopted. Like compulsory video recording of confessional statements and examination of witnesses and the use of stenographers.

Improved Research for Case and Statutory Authorities.

Gone are the days when lawyers and judges used to rely solely on hard copies and physical libraries to find authorities for the principles they will rely on thereby wasting so much time on research. Today, one can comfortably sit in his room and search for authorities using peculiar search engines like Lawpavilion Primsol, LawcareNigeria and even The online Nigerian Weekly Law Report to mention but a few. Truly, It is a truism that search engines like Google and Google Scholar use ‘a Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and algorithm that ensures that relevant search results are sent to the researcher within some seconds. It is no longer what we used to have before where one has to spend hours in the library looking for journals and textbooks that are relevant. Some libraries may even refuse to release special texts if they have been catalogued in a restricted area. With the electronic publication of journals, textbooks, cases and statutes, judges may no longer need to travel to a particular place just to find authorities from the law library or buy all sorts of textbooks.

ALSO READ   Validity or Otherwise of Elevated Judge Continuing Case at Lower Court (I) - Mike Ozekhome

E-filing System and Judgements.

Technology can make it easy for us to file processes through the email addresses of the parties instead of additionally paying court bailiffs to travel to serve court processes on the other party. One may argue that this may be problematic, especially where the email address of the other party is not known by another party. However, it is our strong belief that other options should only be adopted where the email address is not available. This is because electronic filing saves time, energy and cost of transportation. finally, one wonders, why we cannot adopt a system where a judge write judgements and send them to the parties’ email addresses instead of spending hours to read judgement when the time should be used to hear other cases. What is the benefit of that practice of delivering judgements orally and openly? Does it add any flavour or substance to a judgement that has already been written?

The Way Forward and Conclusion.

Our justice system has been infested with credibility deficits because we have failed to do the needful. It is time to amend our laws to allow the sending of original copies of judgements through email. Also, our courts should review their stance to allow the video recording of the examination of witnesses. The current use of e-filing in some courts in Lagos State, Port Harcourt and Abuja are commendable and other courts should follow this trend. More efforts should be made by the Chief Judges of our courts to make sure every court has its stenographer.

Ewulum Ifechukwu Christopher is a law student of the University of Nigeria Nsukka. E: ewulumchristopher@gmail.com, T: 08022523498 OR 09157027790


Footnotes

[1] LawcareNigeria: VP Osinbajo, CJN Advocate Purpose-built Technology Solutions for Courts and Justice Administration (18th August 2020) <https://lawcarenigeria.com/vp-osinbajo-cjn-advocate-purpose-built-technology-solutions-for-courts-and-justice-administration/> accessed 24th June 2022.

[2] Aakanksha G and Others, ‘Technology’ (Edn 2022) <https://bscholarly.com/cheapest-universities-canada/>  accessed on 24th June 2022.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Digital Learning: Teach with Digital Technologies (2019) <https://www.education.vic.gov.au/school/teachers/teachingresources/digital/Pages/teach.aspx> accessed on 24th June 2022.

[5] The Punch: Justice suffers delay in Nigerian courts amidst plenty IT solutions (26th December 2019) <https://punchng.com/justice-suffers-delay-in-nigerian-courts-amidst-plenty-it-solutions-1/> accessed on 24th June 2022.

[6] See for instance the Supreme Court’s case of Muyiden v The NBA and anor (2021) LPELR-55885(SC). See also Kalejaiye v L.P.D.C. (2019) 8 NWLR (Pt. 1674) 365.

[7] (2018) LPELR – 46420 (SC). See also Joseph Zhiya v The People of Lagos State (2016) LPELR – 40562 (CA).

[8] (2019) LCN/13477(CA). See also Emeka v The State (2019) LPELR- 48682 (CA).

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here