Nigeria’s Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo says there is hope for positive reforms in the justice system as more result-oriented changes are currently ongoing in the country.
He stated this on Friday at the 20th Year Memorial Symposium organised by the law firm of Aluko and Oyebode in memory of one of their founding partners, the late Mr Bankole Aluko, who died in February 18, 2002.
Osinbajo, who delivered the keynote address at the symposium, said that reform efforts being jointly undertaken by the National Judicial Council, NJC, the Nigerian Bar Association, civil society organisations and the federal government give hope of some real changes in the system.
The Vice President identified the failings of the administration of the justice system as consequences of philosophical, structural and institutional deficiencies.
“To make sense judicial decisions and reasoning must in most cases meet the common notions of fairness and justice.
“The system of justice must recognize the larger principles that it serves.
In judicial interpretation, the spirit is as important as the letter of the law.
“Otherwise judicial decisions become technistic applications far removed from common sense.
According to the vice president, the notions of justice that would meet public expectations of fairness and equity are those that promote substance over form.
“The observance of technicality over merit will always alienate the system of justice from the people it is meant to serve,” he added.
Osinbajo said that institutional issues that needed to be addressed were those that involve the quality and capacity of judges, court registries, court staff as well as court infrastructure, including court buildings.
He said of critical importance to the administration of the justice system in Nigeria is the appointment of judges, pointing out the need to subject candidates to be appointed as judges to rigorous processes as is done in other jurisdictions.
“It is quite frankly stunning that the process for evaluation and interview of judges, men and women statutorily empowered to literarily determine the lives and livelihoods of others is one of the least rigorous processes imaginable.
“There are no clear evaluation processes for selecting judges.
Insisting that the best of judicial officers must be appointed at all times, Osinbajo said the government must ensure that the conditions under which they operate are not only befitting but are good enough to attract the best of minds in the legal profession.
“The judge is of course central to how our system of justice works.
It is the court not counsel that must determine the pace of cases.
“It is the court that exercises discipline in the courtroom, preventing and or punishing up unethical behaviour.
In doing so the court’s disciplinary powers, especially of contempt must be simplified.
“Today the technicality of contempt proceedings has robbed judges of their most potent disciplinary tool.
“To complement the judge in sanctioning unethical practices is the NBA and its disciplinary jurisdiction.
But this also needs to be re-jigged.
“Complaints going before it have caught the bug of judicial trial delays.
The case management function of the judge is one that must be taught and re-taught.
Pointing out that certainty or predictability of judicial outcomes is one of the major strengths of the common law, the vice president said that unresolved conflicting decisions of Nigeria’s appellate courts threaten predictability and makes the job of offering legal opinions to clients difficult if not outrightly precarious.
According to Prof.
Osinbajo, digitization of court processes, records and services is the inevitable new frontier of justice delivery and will dramatically enhance access to justice and affect trial timelines.
“Easy-to-use technology is available to be deployed at all stages of civil and criminal proceedings, including commencement, service of processes and hearing.
“Court registries are digitized so that court processes can be filed, stored and retrieved electronically with ease.
“Parties can file all processes, and evidence online and participate in the proceedings virtually.
“Already, in a commendable response to the realities of functioning during a pandemic, the Supreme Court has endorsed virtual court proceedings.
“Technology has already permanently transformed the way we do business.
It is destined to change the way our institutions work.
He said that the late Aluko had justice reform as one of his favourite subjects, adding that both of them spent hours analysing the issues, “Which is why the topic of this lecture would have intrigued him “Administration of Justice: The Ideal Standard, the Nigerian Reality and Our Potential.
Welcoming the guests to the symposium, the Chairman, Kofo Dosekun said the late Aluko had a passion for the law, which was reflected in his dedication and devotion to his clients and the young lawyers that he mentored.
There was also a discussion on the theme of the symposium by a panel made up of eminent lawyers, judges and a law professor.
Justice System: There’s hope for positive reforms – VP Osinbajo