One issue that has bedeviled the justice sector over time, has been the delay in the administration of justice. Hence, how to quicken dispensation of justice has remained at the fore of discussion at every fora organized by stakeholders in the justice sector. To underscore their determination to put an end to it, the issue was the only topic tackled for several hours by the egg-heads in the sector at a one-day conference of operators in the justice sector held penultimate week, reports Abdulwahab Abdulah.
Stakeholders in the justice sector converged in Lagos in the penultimate week to develop an action plan aimed at bringing to an end issues of delay in justice administration.
The conference held at City Hall, Laqos attracted the governor of Lagos State, Babatunde Raji Fashola, the out-going Chief Judge of the State, Justice Ayotunde Phillips, the Head Judge, Justice Funmilayo Atilade, former attorney general and solicitor generals of the state and members of the bench and the bar, the prisons, and the police among others.
Leading the discussion was the governor of the state, Babatunde Raji Fashola who charged lawyers to restrict themselves to their areas of specialization while accepting briefs from clients in order to minimize delays in Justice Administration. He frowned at the avoidable delays in justice administration pointing out that this could portend denial of justice.
Fashola said one of the major reasons why there are delays in court processes in the nation’s courts was the issue of ‘non- trial lawyers’ accepting cases and going to court to handle such cases adding that the result of such situations was unnecessary adjournments.
He compared the situation with what obtains in other professions, arguing that just as in the medical profession where a practitioner who is not a surgeon cannot go into the theatre, a non-trial lawyer would only be a nuisance in a trial court as he would be lost before a trial judge.
“How many of us really are trial lawyers and how many of us admit that they are not trial lawyers and still go to court? Because it is not every medical practitioner that is a surgeon, so some of those clear distinctions must be made”, the Governor said charging the on-going conference to “at least ventilate if not resolve to ventilate the issue.”
Noting that the argument that solicitors should be separated from barristers is an on-going discourse, Fashola declared, “but these are some of the hard pills we may have to swallow”, adding that the distinction has been made a long time ago in the judicial system of the United Kingdom.
Fashola also advised lawyers to debunk the concept that they must win every case they handle in court pointing out that a lawyer should restrict himself to getting justice for his client according to the rule of law adding that if lawyers understand this and put it into practice it would narrow down the issues in court.
Urging Judges to insist on trial lawyers narrowing down the issues in court, the Governor declared, “If my car hit someone else’s car, it will be of no value in court to argue whether or not my car hit the other car, that is self evident already. The argument is the quantum of damage caused by the impact”.
The state Attorney General, Mr. Ade Ipaye, in his address noted that lawyers and litigants are key players that can either speed up or slow down the process of adjudication. Other factors which he noted could also delay administration of justice include the judges, court buildings and equipment, court rules of procedure, court staff and registry, enforcement and custodial facilities among others.
He said all these factors determine the quality and pace of adjudication.
In reducing trial time, he said that the state established the Multidoor Courthouse and the inclusion of Alternate Dispute Resolution(ADR) in the rules of Civil Procedure.
Ipaye said that front-laoding also stemmed the influx of frivolous cases adding that in recent times, cases filed at the High Court of Lagos State has reduced gradually from 6,696 in 2011 to 6,584 in 2012 and to 6,043 in 2013.
He said that the number of cases which now achieve early settlement has increased due to ADR and the establishment of fast track courts.
The Solicitor General, Mr. Lawal Pedro(SAN) in a welcome address remarked that the mischief of delay in justice administration will be better appreciated when the advantages gained by the society is considered noting that litigation precludes resort to violence and circumvention for self-help.
Pedro suggested a four way approach out of delay in justice administration.
He suggested that a week in each quarter of the year be declared Law conference week for judges and lawyers to attend to find solution to the issues.
The Solicitor General said that in criminal justice system, the Inspector General of Police (IGP) should be made to issue directives that no policeman involved in criminal investigation is posted outside a state without clearance from the Attorney General.
In his remarks, former Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo described justice delayed as high impunity on the part of the practitioner noting that people file any type of application, no matter how frivolous because he is aware that there is no penalty. To him, the legal system must come in a way to protect the legal values. He said the bar and the bench must come together to redefine this rule stressing that the delay often experienced in court is caused by men and not “spirits”.