Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babatunde Fashola SAN (3rd left), Chief Judge of Lagos State, Hon. Ayo Phillips (2nd left), Head Judge, Hon Justice Funmilayo Atilade (left), Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Mr. Ade Ipaye (4th left), former Commissioner of Justice, Lagos State, Professor Yemi Oshibanjo (3rd right), Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Justice, Mr. Lawal Pedro SAN (2nd right) and the Executive Secretary, Lagos State Security Trust Fund, Mr. Arthur-Worrey (right) during a Delay in Justice Administration – Beyond the Rules and the Law Conference organized by the Lagos State Ministry of Justice in conjunction with Nigerian Bar Association at the City Hall, Lagos, on Thursday, July 3, 2014.
Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babatunde Fashola (SAN) on Thursday, 3rd July, 2014, charged law officers in the country to restrict themselves to their areas of specialization while accepting briefs from clients in order to minimize delays in discharging cases at the courts.
At the one-day Law Conference held at the City Hall in Lagos with the theme, “Delay in Justice Administration – Beyond the Rules and the Law”, organized by the Lagos State Ministry of Justice in collaboration with the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), the Governor frowned at the avoidable delays in justice administration as this could portend denial of justice.
In his keynote address at the occasion, 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 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.
He maintained that a trial lawyer who comes to court knows the environment, what the rules are and how the system operates adding that just as a non-surgeon would be fumbling around in the theatre until the patient may die, a non-trial lawyer would continue to fumble and delay justice.
“And that is a serious undertaking that we are dealing with – human lives, peoples’ fortunes and we could do with some real professionalism in the country so that you don’t have practitioners in the courts who are fishing for an answer”, the Governor said.
Citing some of the actions of non-trial lawyers that cause delay in court, Fashola said, “They will deny every plea you claim; they will deny even the name of the plaintiff. What happens is that the plaintiff will now be first put on trial to prove that he is who he is and all these take time. It is only when the issues are in control of professionals that you could have a real trial’, adding, “It is the lack of experience because they don’t know what to do; it is not their area of specialization”.
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.
The Governor declared, “The concept that lawyers must win a case is a concept that must go out of the window. Lawyers are trained and paid to help their clients get justice according to the law and not to win cases. If trial lawyers understand this and put to practice what we will achieve first is the narrowing of the issues”.
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”.
Fashola also advised that in cases where it is possible, lawyers must restrain their clients from going to court adding that giving their clients honest advices on whether or not to go to court would, in addition to reducing unnecessary litigations in court and putting pressure on judges, earn the confidence of clients for the law officer as it would save money that would have been spent on a fruitless pursuit.
The Governor agreed with the suggestion that law officers must be made to pay for wasting the time of the court on any case arguing that the right to be heard does not mean the right to be a nuisance. “These are some of the inventive and proactive orders that we must begin to make”, he said.
“I agree that we must make some serious evaluation in the matter of cost and you cannot do that without some modification of the rules. Perhaps part of the modification is to see the roles that we the operators of the rules play as lawyers and judges and other members of the judicial system”, he said.
On other factors that cause delay in court processes, the Governor who also listed lack of adequate infrastructure including Power supply, said the Lagos State Government has done a lot in the last 14 years to correct the anomaly adding that the administration has built courtrooms and upgraded the magistracy as well as supplied Power through its Independent Power Project.
He said his administration undertook to increase the jurisdiction of the magistracy and expand it in order to provide some relief to the High Courts because there were cases that were piling up in the high courts that could be dealt with at the magistracy level adding that it was done to complement the high court reforms that were made during the tenure of Professor Yomi Oshibanjo as the State’s Chief law Officer.
Commending the Ministry of Justice for organizing the conference, Fashola declared, “But what really drives a government to lend itself to this kind of conference seems to me that it is the desire to improve, a constant sense of self examination – how well are we doing, can we do better?”
According to the Governor, “I think the starting point is to understand that this conference seeks to look at the problem of delay away from the rules and so the problems that challenge us as a people are not necessarily that our systems are bad; they can do with some modifications from time to time. But we have not looked at where the problems come from – the finger that pointed one way rather than the other way”.
In his goodwill message earlier, former State Commissioner for Justice, Professor Yemi Oshibajo, advocated heavy penalty for “deliberate and negligent delay in the court process” saying unless the consequences of such delay is made punitive, it would continue.
He recalled that in 2001, he monitored one of the cases involving Nigeria’s maximum ruler, late General Sanni Abacha, in a United Kingdom court adding that while the court hearing was scheduled for 9.00 a.m. as at 9.15 a.m. the Nigerian representatives were not in court leading to the imposition of a fine of 160,000 Pounds against Nigeria by the trial judge.
Reviewing the past and present situation of the State’s Judicial System, the Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Mr. Ade Ipaye, who noted that delay of justice is tantamount to denial of justice said a holistic reform of the system, including infrastructure was needed to put the system in proper perspective.
Noting that Law and Order is the critical process underpinning civilization, the Attorney General declared, “Lagos has moved appreciably amidst the increasing multi-ethnic and multi-cultural population” adding, “How we maintain law and order reflects on the whole of Nigeria”.
The state Chief Judge, Justice Ayo Phillips in her remarks said the role of the Judiciary is to advance the course of Justice adding that the focus of Judiciary has been to build an atmosphere for meaningful policies in that direction. Lagos State, she said, has continued to introduce civil procedures that help stakeholders to improve productivity.
Urging cooperation between the Bar and the Bench, the Chief Judge declared, “Efforts made to reform the Judiciary will be unsuccessful without the cooperation of the Bench” adding that the cooperation was necessary for quick dispensation of Justice.
Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Justice, Mr. Lawal Pedro, SAN, in his welcome address earlier, advocated the enlargement of the Appeal Court in Lagos to at least five panels saying it would enable the court accommodate all cases that come from the many High Courts in the State which it serves.
Also present at the occasion were the Executive Secretary of the State’s Security Trust Fund, Mr. Fola Arthur Worrey; Head Judge of the State, Hon. Justice Funmilayo Atilade; members of the Bar and Bench and other legal luminaries as well as top government officials and private citizens.