Home / News / Unease Lies The Heads That Wear The Wig By Funke Busari

Unease Lies The Heads That Wear The Wig By Funke Busari


 

In the Lagos State Judiciary, court congestion and unending adjournments have continually made justice seekers suffer in a stale
system, reports Funke Busari

Court! The voice of the male registrar pealed through the Sexual
Violence Court to announce the arrival of Her Lordship, Justice Sybil
Nwaka on June 25, 2019. Time was 11:16 a.m.

The High Court Rules of Lagos State provides that sitting at the court
should start officially at 9  a.m. and end by 4 p.m. On this day,
however, sitting ended about 2:08 p.m.

After about four hours sitting, Justice Nwaka was able to entertain
only three matters out of 26 cases slated for the day. She also
delivered two rulings not listed in the cause list, or on the court’s
website at www.lagosjudiciary.gov.ng/portal for the week of June
24-28, 2019.

Isiaka Oladele, scheduled to be arraigned before Justice Nwaka on that
day, was not lucky. His case was adjourned to October 2, 2019. By
implication, Oladele will have to spend another four months in remand.
By this date, it is expected that more cases would have piled up in
Nwaka’s docket.

Not that Justice Nwaka is oblivious of the anguish and frustration
that litigants go through, but according to her, she had to rise
before official sitting hours to attend a maiden meeting with the new
Chief Judge of the State, Justice Kazeem Alogba alongside other
justices.

By her action, the fate of Oladele, who was not accompanied by a legal
counsel on this day, and that of other justice seekers whose matters
were not heard would have to wait in the wings until after all the
justices come back from the annual court recess which began in July.
Legal proceedings on 26 June, was not in any way different from the
previous day. On June 26, 27 matters were slated for hearing the same
day, including one earlier adjourned to June 28.

But proceedings did not begin in the court until 11:20 a.m. Justice
Nwaka rose three hours later. Time was 2:07 p.m. after hearing the
bail application of a defendant, Adenekan Adegboyega who was standing
trial for the defilement of a child in suit number LD/5013C/17.
Justice Nwaka didn’t show up on June 27 and no reason was offered.
This reporter later found out that most of the judges did not sit as
well because they were attending a valedictory service in honour of
former Chief Judge of the state, Justice Opeyemi Olufunmilayo Oke, who
just retired. Consequently, 22 suits on the cause list, expected to be
handled by Justice Nwaka, for the day got new dates for attention, and
remain in the docket still.

No matter was slated for hearing on 28 June, according to the week’s
cause list. However, an argument for the bail of a certain Adenekan
was adjourned for that day, and the ruling was adjourned until July 3.

In all, a total of 105 cases, plus another five add-ons as a result of
contingencies, were slated for hearing for the week, making a total of
110 cases, out of which 10 cases were entertained by Justice Nwaka.
That’s less than 10 percent of the entire cases in the docket for the
week.

Yet on average, the judge is assigned 22 cases daily. And in a month,
charges begging for her attention would be in excess of 400 cases.

That is happening in the Lagos State Judiciary where government cited
the need for speedy hearing and dispensation of justice as reasons for
establishing the Special and Sexual Violence Courts in February 2018.
Recognizing the magnitude of the social and economic cost of domestic
and sexual violence, the state government pioneered the Lagos State
DSVRT in 2014, and later the Special and Sexual Violence Courts to
deal mainly with matters bothering on domestic violence and sexual
assaults separate from the normal courts.

Sad reality

In 2018, Justice Kazeem Alogba chaired a committee to review the Civil
Procedure Rules 2012, then as an Administrative Judge. In one of the
briefings by the committee to intimate the bar and bench of their
activities, he painted a pitiable picture of the plight and sight of
his colleagues.

“Sometimes in my humble position as an administrative judge, it pains
me a lot because, at a time, you could give one judge 50 files and
within the week more cases are filed; you’d still send more files to
that judge. What miracle do you expect a judge to perform in such
circumstances?”

A year after Alogba’s lamentations, the Lagos Judiciary is still
reeling under the burden of overflowing dockets and tell-tale signs of
fatigue on the judges.

According to Titilola Vivour-Adeniyi, Coordinator of the Domestic and
Sexual Violence Response Team (DSVRT) in Lagos State, Justice Nwaka
currently has over 600 cases gathering dust in her docket for 2018
alone.

The workload is the same for the other judge in the Lagos State Sexual
Violence Court. Further checks at the court registry show that Justice
Abiola Soladoye, has matters in excess of 350 pending before her for
2018 too.

“These courts are congested, and the judges overwhelmed,’ the DSVRT
Coordinator lamented to the reporter.

Justices Mojisola Dada and Oluwatoyin Taiwo, both of the Special
Offences Courts, are heavily ladened too. At the inauguration of the
Special and Sexual Violence Courts in 2018, former Chief Judge of
Lagos State, Justice Opeyemi Olufunmilayo Oke revealed that no less
than 500 matters bothering on economic and financial crimes begging
for the attention of the court were assigned to both judges. In
effect, both women had 250 matters each in their dockets at the start
of operations in the economic and financial crimes court (Special
Offences Courts.)

“Presently, there are over 500 cases of financial crimes pending
before the High Court, the bulk of which have now been assigned to the
Special Offences Courts.

“We are enthusiastic about the designation of the new courts as we see
the development as a step in the right direction.”

This was the plan, but the reality that later dawned on the special
courts after one year of existence speaks to the same challenge.
By the end of 2018, Kayode Oyekanmi, Public Affairs Officer at the
Lagos State Ministry of Justice, told this reporter that the
Directorate of Public Prosecution had added additional 407 matters to
the already overflowing dockets at the Special and Sexual Offences
Court. As at July this year too, the DPP has filed another 273 cases
already, increasing the number to 680, with the likelihood of an
increase before the end of the year.

How delay affects the system – Lawyer

The backlash of the rising numbers of case files inundating the four
justices at the special courts are the sustained frustration and
several adjournments that many trials suffer before they get to be
concluded. By implication, the adjournments culminate in swelling
population in the prisons because of defendants who have to remain in
custody until their matters are entertained.

“You see, the justice system has been circumvented by such undue delay
in the administration of justice,’ Barrister Kayode Bankole lamented
to the reporter,  ‘and those who infringed on the right of the
aggrieved take solace in the snail speed that bedevilled and underpins
our justice system.

“It affects justice system in that it makes the citizens lose
confidence in the judicial process and it also encourages the
oppressors to continue to do what they are doing, people who thrive in
impunity, it encourages them to continue because they know that at the
end of the day justice will be denied by way of justice delayed,” the
Lagos lawyer explained.

Loophole in Lagos criminal law 


However, one of the major factors responsible for the perceived lapses
on the part of judges lies with the framing of the Criminal Law of
Lagos State 2015. The law is silent about the maximum limit of
adjournment in any particular criminal cause. Quite unlike the
Administration of Criminal Justice Act, ACJA 2015, which sets out to
ensure speedy trials.

Section 396 of the ACJA, for instance, provides for day-to-day trial
for criminal cases or where this is not possible, the number of
adjournments is limited to five each and the intervals between each
adjournment is not to exceed 14 days, and where the trial has not been
concluded then the court may award cost on any other frivolous
application for adjournment as the case may be.

The reason behind this provision is obvious; parties to a criminal
proceeding are left with no other option than to execute their duties
expeditiously in order to obtain the best favourable results for their
clients.

Like Lagos courts, like Supreme Court

Even at that, this crucial Section of the ACJA 2015 appears to be
effective only on paper. At the Supreme Court where the ACJA is
expected to be fully deployed, litigants are already taking dates
beyond 2019 as a possible time for their matters to come up, this
reporter found out.

As early as February this year, counsel have started taking 2020 dates.
“Let me tell you, at the Supreme Court as at today, we have started
taking the year 2021 dates, not 2020, Bankole disclosed.

“So if you file a case today in the Supreme Court, you cannot get a
date this year again, it will be hard. It has to be 2020 or towards
the end of 2021.”

The reason for that is not too far to seek. The apex court is also
groaning under a heavy workload. And unfortunately, it is the same
number of Justices the constitution provided for when Nigeria was just
100 million people around 1979 that are still there today when the
national population has snowballed to 201 million.

Section 230 of the 1999 constitution provides for a maximum of 21
justices, including the Chief Justice of Nigeria, to be in the Supreme
Court at any point in time. But as of 2019, only the Chief Justice of
Nigeria and 14 other Associate Justices are on the bench of the
Supreme Court. Invariably the court is running on a six-man deficit.

Back in Lagos, the experience of Christian C. Erondu in Suit No:
ID/692/2006 is emblematic of the grave consequence of the delay and
denials that Bankole is griping about. The matter took 13 years to be
heard before Justice A.O Opesanwo at the Lagos High court.

And even after getting a judgment, Monday Ubani, Counsel to the
plaintiff told this reporter, the delays are far from over.

“The defendant is trying out to use the process of appeal to delay
further the case. Knowing fully well that if the matter goes on
appeal, it will take another average of seven years or thereabout.
“And maybe if it goes to Supreme Court, it may take another 10 years.
Maybe it will take an average of 20 or 30 years for a matter to be
resolved, so you can see the danger.

“The danger is that some people die waiting for justice, in fact in
this case that I told you about, the defendant died. And he was the
one using all manner of tactics to delay the matter knowing fully well
that he is in possession of the properties.”

The Devil’s Advocates?

Part of the problems identified by the Justice Alogba-led committee on
the review of Civil Procedures rule in 2018 are the antics most
lawyers deploy to delay or scuttle trials.

That’s done in part through asking for frivolous adjournments, or not
showing up in court on appointed dates, the reporter found out.
This reporter also found out that when lawyers are not asking for
adjournments or playing the truants, they make the job of the judge
more difficult using lengthy written addresses.

“Most of these judges came in very beautiful and handsome but after
five years, they’d become enemies of the barbing salon because of your
voluminous written addresses,’ the judge groaned.

As such, the Lagos judiciary has set a limit for all written addresses
to be no more than 20 pages, and reply on point-of-law to five pages.
Lawyers who scuttle trial dates at will too will also pay a fine of
N100, 000 to serve as a disincentive.

The rules are severe though, but Bankole does not think the hash laws
are necessary.

“It is not making the rules to be harsh that will solve the problems
but rather it is when the system works properly. When the right
persons are called to the Bar, the right persons are called to the
Bench and the system is well funded and above all the right attitude.
It is then we are going to have justice or resemblance of justice.”

Same old structure


At the moment, there are just 59 judges and 120 magistrates staffing
the courts in Lagos. That’s less than 200 judicial staff in a state of
no less than 20 million residents, and still counting.

As the population burgeons, business transactions are expanding,
relationships are also being cultivated, thus making infringements
inevitable.

But the Lagos courts remain the same old institutions—manned by
stenographers who listen to court proceedings and type away on their
computers. And judges and magistrates who shuttle between listening to
counsels and taking notes in the usual longhand.
“We need to equip our judicial system with basic infrastructure. It’s
high time we left the long-hand process we are using in taking notes
of proceedings. We should employ technology in the administration of
justice. We see how other nations are not taking proceedings in
longhand, rather it is being recorded electronically after which they
review and do the right thing,’ Monday Ubani, 2nd Vice-President of
the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, told the reporter.

“Funding is also an issue. If we employ more judges, that means you
have to pay more money, you also have to equip the court system and we
must also amend some of our rules to accommodate speedy dispensation
of justice.”

Ubani’s recommendations are apt. But they will work more if the state
government also consider a swift appointment of more judges in the
Lagos judiciary, in addition to expanding its judicial divisions from
the current five.

*This investigation was done with the support of the Premium Times
Centre for Investigative Journalism (PTCIJ)

 

 

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Original Author

Funke Busari

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Source: Sahara Reporters

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