BY DAYO BENSON
Lagos State Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Mr. Ade Ipaye, has said that the state government will set up a special fund to assist young lawyers to give free legal services to the poor.
Speaking at a stakeholder meeting with the theme, “Building a Culture of Pro Bono in Nigeria,” in Lagos, Ipaye said the fund will create better access to justice in the state, noting that such funds can be used for payment of filing charges.
“We intend to launch a fund for independent young lawyers to assist them in handling their pro bono cases. Such funds can be used for payment of their filing charges and transportation cost to fast track the justice system,” he said.
According to him, lack of legal representation for accused had caused long adjournments in courts thereby, casting shadows on the reputation of the judiciary. The stakeholders meeting was part of activities to markg the 1st Lagos Public Interest Law Partnership, LPILP, Pro Bono Week.
In her address, the state deputy governor, Princess Adejoke Orelope-Adefulire, said women and children were at the receiving end of unequal access to justice in the society.
“Everyday we read about gender-based violence, women and child abuses. Some of these women are so helpless that they do not even know what to do” she said, adding that the population of Lagos had placed an enormous responsibility on the government, especially in the area of providing access to justice for all residents.
Adefulire commended the 66 law firms and four non-governmental organisations for partnering the state government to actualise the objective of the pro bono services in the state.
Prof. Edwin Rekosh, an adjunct professor at Colombia University, New York, on his part, noted that it was not only in Nigeria that access to justice was under pressure, saying “countries such as the United Kingdom and United States had cut funding for legal aid in recent years.”
Rekosh pointed out that government still had an obligation to render free legal services to its citizens who could not afford such services.
Presenting a report on the culture of pro bono in Lagos, Prof. Lanre Fagbohun, who represented the Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, said that there were enormous challenges being faced in providing equal access to justice for citizens, as majority of litigants still appear in court without attorneys for economic reasons.