By Dotun Ibiwoye
How would described the judiciary 20 years ago when you started your law practice and now, has there been any significant improvement?
Law is an evolving thing and changes everyday. We largely inherited the English procedure of Administration of Justice and that system has since been severely modified by the United Kingdom, but we sadly have not done the same kind of modification. The result is that the level of growth of commerce, and with the growth, comes the growth of disputes generated from the intercourse of commerce.
The number of judges and faculty to handle this issue have not grown, so the gap has created a vacuum and inefficiency that, even if for instance in the Court of Appeal, if nobody files any appeal in the next 2 to 3 years, there will be several cases to attend to. They have to sit in threes to deal with them because of the federal system we run.
You will see that a state like Lagos does not have judges in commensurate proportion to the population and commerce that occur here where about 60% of Nigeria’s commercial activities are being operated. One state out of 36 and so some of these capacity issues, procedural issues, man power issues have largely been responsible for inefficient justice system.
I don’t subscribe to the fact that it is corruption that is the problem. It is one part of the problem, but for me, there are so many good judges numerically. They outnumber the ones that are not good. As you know, bad news speaks louder than good news. .I think what we need to look at is the reform in the administration of justice.
Would you say the issue of insufficient judges has affected the practice of law in the state?
Lagos state needs to be commended. Thank God for the amiable Chief judge of Lagos, Hon. Justice Ayotunde Philips for rising to the challenge of realizing that law must keep pace with the changes in the society, and the administration of justice must keep pace with the rapid increase with the way in which commerce occurs.
That is why the Lagos Civil Procedure rules of 2011, 2012 and 2013 that just took effect have a good motive because the underline philosophy is that, about ten percent of plaintiffs really go through trial. The other 90, one way or the other, resolve their dispute.
So the new rules encourage Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR), put all cards on the table by not hiding anything from your opponent and then the judge can look at it and say it is a case that party can resolve. The rules allow parties explore mediated settlement and when that happens the court is less congested with cases.
Why did you choose Chief Folake Solanke, SAN, to deliver the lecture of your 20th anniversary, and what was the major intention for the theme: “Law as an instrument of Social Engineer”?
The choice of the speaker is instructive, Chief Folanke Solanke , SAN, represents an icon of excellence in the society and in the profession She is the first female senior advocate in Nigeria. Formerly a mathematics teacher. She taught maths and Latin in the UK and excelled in her field. She has continued to maintain a high level of integrity.
Some of my colleagues here were born in the year I was called to bar so we have different generations in this law firm . She stands for us as an inspiration. She is an icon that every professional should aspire to be, we chose her and we are grateful she accepted to speak. The topic, “Law as an instrument of social engineer”, was chosen to mark our anniversary lecture. It is relevant because of where we find ourselves in Nigeria today.