Re: National Judiciary Reform Summit Beyond the Talk Shop, Simple Technology Based Innovations to Ease Justice Administration in Nigeria.

By Douglas Ogbankwa 

The Federal Government and the Nigerian Bar Association gathered all the players in the Justice Sector for a reform summit. Beyond that, they needed to have brought those who will say what they do not want to hear. How many of these names were there? Aikpokpo Martins, Kunle Edun, Bayo Akinlade, Inebehe Effiong, Ike Augustine, Maxwell Uzoka, Maxwell Opara, my humble self -Douglas Ogbankwa, etc?

A reform summit should have reformists present and not just those who are the cause of the problem you want to reform. Truth be told, we are not ready for reforms. The simple things we can do, we do not do it. Take for example 4 Naira SMS to counsel or parties when the court is not sitting. How many judges ensure that is done?

The reason justice is slow in Nigeria is not just because of the many adjournments sought by lawyers; it is also because the Judiciary in Nigeria has not emulated their peers the world over who have moved alongside the technological advancement of society.

In this 21st Century, judges in Nigeria take records in long hand, as if we are in the 19th Century! Court files are still being moved physically from one place to the other, just as it was in the colonial era. Processes are still being filed physically just like the old post office syndrome. Counsel need to be physically present at all times in court when our peers around the world use teleconferencing to conduct matters and sometimes get urgent orders, which in legal parlance, are called Interim Orders.

To get a court to send you an SMS if the court is not sitting is a herculean task. The consequences are dire, as sometimes while the court will not sit, some counsel will travel very far while a few die by motor accident on their way to court. This would have been averted if the Registrar of the court had just sent a simple SMS.

In this regard, I wish to commend My Lord, the Hon. Justice Helen Morenike Ogunwumiju, the Presiding Justice of the Court of Appeal, Benin Division, who has embraced technology by setting up a WhatsApp Group of Court Officials and Bar Leaders in My Lord’s Jurisdiction, from where the Cause List for the Week is posted and information whether the court is sitting or not and even dates of adjournments are posted timeously.

I will also commend the Head of the Front Desk Session of the Court, Mrs. Tugai, Ovigue Ogbodo, Mr. Ishmael and others. Though they are all lawyers, they are internet savvy and relay information relating to the court at the speed of light!

I urge other courts to emulate the Court of Appeal, Benin, and to also send an SMS to counsel if the court is not sitting .

Financial Autonomy of the Judiciary – which is provided for by the Constitution but has not been obeyed by the Executive – is paramount in ensuring a technological transformation system in the Judiciary.

Why should the Judiciary go cap in hand to the Executive any time they need anything? Where then is the independence of the Judiciary? And how can we vouch for the integrity of the judicial process when the Executive controls the purse and the sword? In the same Edo State, officials to man verbatim recorders have been trained for close to two years now and till date, the verbatim recorders have not been purchased or deployed. So why train the officials to man the verbatim recorders in the first place?

In any case, the Governors have mostly hijacked the Judiciary in many States, as many Chief Judges are mere figure-heads. The NBA Excos are aware of this, but they are scared of what they will lose from the Governors if they tackled them. Merchantile or Transactional Bar Leaders have taken over a lot of branches and places in the NBA. You no longer hear the truth; what you hear now are the figures.

The Nigerian Judiciary must embrace technology in the following manners:

1. Embrace the E-filing concept. CAC and FIRS have shown that you can file processes online in a seamless manner.

2. Courts in Nigeria should adopt the verbatim recording system that allows an electronic recording of proceedings. From experience, this will reduce by half the duration of time for conducting cases and give an accurate record of proceedings in court.

3. Courts should set up WhatsApp groups of key court officials and Bar Leaders. The information posted there on activities of courts will be relayed by Bar Leaders to their Branch WhatsApp groups.

4. Courts should adopt an electronic file management system to make storage of court documents safe and easier to access.

5. Courts should adopt teleconferencing with time to stop the incidence of adjournments. Counsel can appear in court from anywhere in the world. This is what is applicable in other climes.

6. Courts should allow electronic devices like laptops, phones etc to be used in court for research and accessing of materials online, real-time .

7. There should be CCTV cameras in every court to capture proceedings in visual form. Where there is a doubt as to what happened in court, it could be reviewed.

8. Courts should have a functional website where Cause List for each day and Judgments/Ruling can be assessed with ease. Phone numbers of Registrars should also be available to ensure they can be reached easily.

9. The Legal Assistants should all have laptops, just as judgments and rulings are given by the court. They should draw up the enrolment of Order and enrolment of judgment same day and ensure same is signed by the judge and issued out same day. It should be made compulsory that a judicial officer should not read a judgment without typing and signing same. This will ensure that judgments are got the same day to activate the process of a possible and timeous appeal.

We will do better as a body if all these are put into play.

  • Douglas Ogbankwa is the Convener of the Vanguard for the Independence of the Judiciary.

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