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Lawyers, others fault Evidence Act

By Dayo Benson, John Abayomi, Prince Osuagwu, Aliyu Adekunle, John Egbokhan & Michael Eboh
LAGOS — Lawyers, including Senior Advocates of Nigeria, SANs, and Professors of law, Tuesday , in Lagos took a swipe at the Evidence Act 2011, particularly the section that has to do with computer generated evidence and other related online activities, enacted by the National Assembly.

The occasion was seminar organised by G.M Ibru & Co, a law firm, which gathered notable lawyers, media practitioners, educationists among other erudite Nigerians, with a view to fashioning out ways to tame the defamation arising from the growth of social network and other media activities on the Internet in the country.

Reviewing the challenges, key speakers at the seminar tore the evidence act into shreds, saying the preparations were not only shoddy but the document itself might not stand the test of time when adjudicating cases involving online crimes.

They also called for the amendment of the Act to incorporate possible requirements as well as current trends of activities in the cyber space.

Particularly miffed by the composition of the Act, a legal practitioner, Mr Beluolisa Nwofor, described the act as confusing and lacking necessary ingredients to properly handle the issues it was meant for.

Nwofor was among the panel of discussants to the paper delivered by the Editor-in-Chief of the monthly Judgements of the Supreme Court, Prof Taiwo Osipitan (SAN) entitled “Evidence in the Air: Limits of the Evidence Act in providing defamation communicated by means of social networks.

Nwofor said: “This Act should be amended and in doing that, the National Assembly should not arrogate the powers of knowledge to themselves alone but seek right contributions from experts in the field of law and other relevant fields the Act would affect”

Corroborating him, another legal practitioner, Dele Awokoya, also took a hard knock on the inadequacy of the Evidence Act to meet the challenges of defamation on social network. He argued that true regulator of online activities in Nigeria is not known but the Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC, should step up to the task to hold internet services providers responsible for hosting social networks that publish defamatory items.

Awokoya charges NASS

Awokoya also charged the National Assembly to improve on the legislation of the Act and ensure that it moved with the time.

Also adding her voice, former President of the International Federation of Women Lawyers, FIDA, Mrs. Stella Ugboma, noted that the Evidence Act was riddled with so many errors, saying: “I do not know how the National Assembly wants us to work with such faulty documents.”

Challenges of evidentiary issues

Preparing the ground for all the criticisms, Osipitan had earlier in his paper highlighted the challenges of evidentiary issues in the growing Internet and social networking activities in Nigeria.

He raised questions that doubted the ability of the Act to stand against crimes like defamation committed on social networks .

According to him, “publication of defamatory statements via social networks is different from prints, periodicals and slander for many reasons.

Social networks allow many anonymous authors to publish ever than before possible. Also such publications are often simultaneous and spontaneous, such that they remove editorial intermediaries who are responsible for monitoring and checking materials in the print and broadcast media.

This creates evidentiary complexities in identifying and bringing perpetrators to justice, thereby stretching the limits of the Nigeria Evidence Act as it currently stands.”

His paper noted two implications that could avert right judgement with the Evidence Act as it stands: “first, electronic evidence may easily be manipulated, withdrawn and or destroyed. This will pose a peculiar challenge to a plentiful in establishing defamation on social networking site.
” Second, most electronic evidence that would be tendered in proving online defamation, may be copies of the original stored in machine readable format. For example, is a printed letter to be considered the original document or the actual file saved on computer?”  Osipitan queried.

He however recalled that even prior to the enactment of the 2011 Evidence Act, a legal luminary, Pat Achulonu who was JCA then had acknowledged that “our Evidence Act is now 50 years old and is completely out of time with present scientific and technological achievements”.

Perhaps, that was why earlier in his keynote address, Chief Justice of Lagos state, Hon Justice Ayotunde phillips, represented by Justice Kazeem Alogba, had charged participants to ensure that deliberations would tailor towards finding solutions to the challenges faced by defamation law due to the rapid development of ICT and its activities in Nigeria.


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