…Says delay, a public ridicule
By Abdulwahab Abdulah & Onozure Dania
Lagos—THE Chief Judge of Lagos State, Justice Opeyemi Oke yesterday said delayed cases in court had led to public ridicule of the judiciary, following the recent evaluation of 2,886 old case files including a 70 year old case, under the new initiative Lagos Backlog Elimination Programme BEP.
This came as Justice Oke declared that the court system in the state was in a state of emergency.
Justice Oke who spoke at the inauguration of BEP she initiated in dealing with such cases, lamented that the delay was almost eroding the confidence the common man had in the court, stressing that the delay, coupled with the continuous filing of new cases had led to congestion of the court with a ridiculous number of backlog of cases.
BEP is a programme designed to decongest the courts by re-evaluation of old cases and find ways of resolving them through Alternative Dispute Resolution(ADR) or accelerated hearing. It is organized by the Lagos State Judiciary, BEP and the Lagos Court of Arbitration (LAC).
Justice Oke said, “delay has led to public ridicule of the judiciary which is supposed to be the hope of the common man. This delay, coupled with the continuous filing of new cases has led to congestion of the court with a ridiculous number of backlog of cases, the result of which the courts are now in a state of emergency. Presently there are hundreds of cases in the court dockets aged over 5 years, the oldest of which is 70 year old case. This is a far cry to what can be said to be a reasonable time. Ideally the matters ought to be concluded in weeks, months or at most a year. Many of these cases ought not to be in court at all as they could have been resolved through ADR.”
The CJ emphasized that the rights to fair and reasonable timely trial before a court or tribunal was one of fundamental rights of Nigerians guaranteed under Section 36(1) of the 1999 Constitution.
She disclosed that all hands must be on deck to tackle the situation, hence the establishment of the BEP and recourse to ADR, saying “This is why the BEP was commissioned in January 2018 and aimed to decongest high court of Lagos State of the mentioned old cases.”
According to her, the first phase of the BEP involved the evaluation of old cases in batches from volunteers from different law firms, noting that they were through with the first batch involving case files from five years and above; the second batch involving case files of 10 years and above; and the third batch involving case files from 15 yrs and above.
She said work is on-going on files involving case filed aged 25 years and above.
“After evaluation, facts of each case are summarized, causes of delay identified and recommendation would be made as to efficient means of disposal whether by ADR or accelerated hearing,” she said.
President of LCA, Mr Yemi Candide-Johnson, who delivered a lecture at the occasion titled, “Discussing the Future of Access to Justice and Delivery of Justice in Lagos State: the Role of the Courts and Backlog Elimination Programme: said all indices confirmed that civil justice system is failing and that delay especially was affecting prompt, efficient and effective justice to the users of the court. This is damaging governance in Lagos and the business environment.
“The goal of a global Lagos cannot be achieved unless public has confidence in the mechanism of prompt and efficient dispute resolution and above all, unless they trust and respect the judiciary.
“It is obvious that trust and respect is lost, if there are corrupt and inefficient practices that results in delay at the courts. These are things researched and identified and analyzed in on-going BEP, he explained.
He lamented huge cost of litigation and blamed the situation on indolent and unprepared counsels, noting that such can give a country’s legal system bad reputation.