The Impact of the Covid-19 Pandemic on the Justice Delivery System.

By: Douglas Ogbankwa Esq. 

The Covid-19 Pandemic ravaged the entire world with so much prevalence that the  Courts at a time was completely shut down in Nigeria.

In other Societies that had seen tomorrow,the existing Infrastructure in place for Virtual Court Sittings came in handy  to Keep the Judicial Process Going .

The Chief Justice of the Federation and the Chief Judges of the States issued Practice Directions allowing virtual Court Sittings mostly on the consent of parties. 

While some Courts did peripheral activities with the Virtual Court Systems ,others did nothing at all .

We have not learnt our lessons in the Justice Delivery System in Nigeria and as a the second wave of Corona Virus beckons, the Judicial Sector is in for another avoidable shut down .

It does appears that the major impediment that clogs the wheel of Progress of the Virtual Court System ,is the paucity of Funds of all tiers of the Judiciary owing to the lack of Financial Autonomy.

This brings to the fore  the Cardinal Issue of the Financial Independence of the Judiciary which has been guaranteed by Section 121 (3) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria,1999 (As Amended)by the 4th alteration, which states thus :

Every monies standing to credit of Judiciary shall be paid directly to Heads of Courts from the Consolidated Revenue Funds

As Explicit and unambiguous as this Section seems  ,some Governors aided by very Senior Lawyers have been circumventing this express Provisions of the Constitution ,which in saner climes is even an Impeachable Offence .

The gamut of Equipment and Infrastructure required  to fully integrate  Virtual Conferencing in our Court System is huge considering the Financial Implications of same .

It will be foolhardy for us to think that is achievable, with out Financial Authonomy of the Judiciary.Lawyers act as if  everything was ok.Our Judiciary is under siege by these mindless Politicians.They Now run the States as Emperors as they determine almost every thing .

It takes an extra- ordinarily courageous Judge to give Judgment against the Impunity of Government in view of financial control they have over the Judiciary.Some State Governors even treat the State Chief Judges as their appointees issuing Orders to him or her .It is  however a Chief Judge that does not know his or her onions that will fall prey to such administrative malfeasance.

Just as the Governor is the Head of Executive ,the Chief Judge is the Head of the Judiciary.They have their Powers according to the Constitution.They are Co-Heads of different arms of Government.According to the Constitution, none is subordinate to the other following the Principles of Separation of Powers  clearly delimiting the Powers of State in Sections 4,5 & 6 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic,1999 (As Amended,).

The analysis above becomes apposite because it has affected the inability of the Chief Judges of the States to deploy the required infrastructure to fully kickstart  the much required Virtual Court Sittings.

The Courts should however be ingenuous in delivering Justice .It is completely unacceptable for a Court that has prior knowledge that it will not sit not to send SMSes to Lawyers intimating them of this fact and allowing for a Window for a a three way Conference Call between Counsel on both sides and the Court Registrar to take the next adjourned date .

To this end ,Judges should release funds to their Registries  from the sums standing to their credit monthly for the maintenance of Courts.This will allow for better Justice Delivery.Those monies are to ensure the  efficient running of the Court System and they should be applied for such and nothing else .

As a beginning,Matters for Mention should be mentioned Virtually and not physically and they should be mentioned expeditiously to allow for   dates for Hearing to taken on time .

The Bar Associations and the JScs should also collaborate to have  joint Training the Trainers  Sessions so that the mastering of the Virtual Court System should trickle down to all Judicial Officers and  Lawyers.

The Covid-19 Pandemic has also given us an Opportunity to embrace the E-Filing System which the Corporate Affairs Commission has perfected .We should introduce this System in all Courts in Nigeria to reduce or even eliminate physical contact in the Filing Process .

The E-Filing System will only be effective if we had a good case file Management System which presupposes that all Court documents should be online and accessible virtually.

As a precusor to the above indicated suggestion ,we recommend to all Court Registries in Nigeria the pioneering Strides of the Court of Appeal ,Benin,Front Desk Unit where there is a Court of Appeal,Benin WhatsApp Group made of Leaders of the Bar within Jurisdiction and the Court Officials ,from where the Cause Lists of the Court are weekly Churned out on the Platform.It is a 24 Hour Service .There are even scenarios ,when they indicate on the Platform by midnight that Court is not Sitting on that day. Other Information about the Court are also posted on the Platform .I commend the the I.T. Compliant , *Hon. Justice Helen Morenike Ogunmiwunju*(JSC) for My Lord's resourceness in Setting up  the Platform ,when My Lord was the Presiding Justice of the Court of Appeal ,Benin.My Lord has now been elevated to the Supreme Court .We also thank *Mrs.Tugai* and her Team of the Court of Appeal,Benin Front Desk Section for keeping the Vision going .We urge all Courts in Nigeria to adopt this Working Template.When we see good developments let us commend same .

The Nigerian Judiciary should wake up from its colonial mentality and brace up to the challenges of the 21st Century of using Technology to make Justice Delivery Seamless.This is the way to go ,in order for the  Judiciary not to become moot in the coming days of the second wave of Corona Virus.We must get it right .

Justice delayed ,is Justice denied

-William E. Gladstone,

Former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.


About the Author:

Douglas Ogbankwa Esq,is the immediate Past Publicity Secretary of the Nigerian Bar Association Benin Branch-the Lion Bar.He is the Convener of the Vanguard for the Independence of the Judiciary and the Transparency Bar Initiative.

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