The Chief Executive Officer of House of Justice, Barr. Gloria Mabeiam Ballason has called on stakeholders in the justice sector to recalibrate litigation to circumvent the challenges that make justice inaccessible in courts. Speaking on Friday 2nd July, 2021 at the Mive Legals Public Legal Symposium in Kaduna, with the theme: ‘Recalibrating Litigation in the Time of Crisis,’ ;Barr. Ballason noted that Covid-19, judiciary strikes, clogged court dockets and the fading confidence in the ability of courts to deliver justice are real challenges that must be addressed thus necessitating the imperative for the symposium which, she said, is to have a stakeholders engagement on how the legal system can function in times of crisis. The stakeholders, she noted, are litigants, the judiciary and lawyers and that no sector has a monopoly of ideas thus the need to cross fertilize thoughts and strategies on the way forward.
“There are people in detention centers who are suffering and the case backlog is so high, there is almost no way the court can meet the backlog of the cases that are there having lost about 15 months to the pandemic and Judiciary Staff Union strikes,” she added. She went further to say, “Because there is no section of court users that have the monopoly of wisdom, the judges alone don’t have the monopoly, Covid-19 for instance is an unprecedented pandemic, the lawyers do not have the idea and the litigants do not either but, we can come together and try to fashion out how best we can find solution and this is what we have done.”
“As you can see very brilliant suggestions of mandatory dispute resolution for civil cases were proffered, that way we can reduce the backlog of also ensuring the time in court where dates are taken are left for the registry so that it allows for proper management of the court period and also issues that had been pending even before Covid-19. For example, the issue of the independence of the judiciary and even court filing that there is no need for lawyers to go to court to file or have to meet judges for the assignment of their cases because it affects the objectivity of the court and the issue of justice,” Ballason explained.
The lead presenter at the symposium, Professor Chidi Anselm Odinkalu, beamed light on “Adaptable diagnostics of the situation with litigation in Nigeria” . He said Nigeria does not have a crisis for litigation but a multi-dimensional crises that requires inter-temporal framework for understanding the crises of a Nigerian judicial and legal system that are widely believed to be compromised.He said effort must be made to find where the rain started beating. “Today Governors have reduced Judges to beggars buying cars for them in effort to arm twist. Why the cost of those cars cannot be reflected in the budget for the judiciary is bewildering. Fair trials have been compromised and the requirement for reasonable time for trial is not observed. There is hence a situation where access to court is troubled but even more, exit from court is not guaranteed; ” Odinkalu said. He called on the Bar and Bench to accept both blame and responsibility for sacrificing their agency to politicians and external interests.
Justice S.H Makeri (rtd) a former High Court judge and pioneer President of the Customary Court of Appeal, Kaduna state, decried the overreach on judicial powers by politicians which is worse than what was experienced in the military regime. “I worked in the judiciary during the military era in Nigeria but the atmosphere during our time didn’t give room for pettiness as we now see. The coming of politicians heightened the degree of irresponsibility and then things have continued to go down. We cannot go back to the 80s or 90s but, the solution is that we can make the best of the worst situation that we have found ourselves in. The Bar and the Bench must seat to iron out all the problems so that these problems can be tackled and in particular Judges must be made to face their work properly. In those days if we report to the Court late, there are people who will report to the Chief Judge and disciplinary action will be taken. Return of judgements after 90days was compulsory and you had to comply by submitting proper returns which were checked by schedule officers. I was one of the groups that went for election petition tribunal in 1999. On 31st December, we left for Jos, we were sworn in, on the 1st day of January we proceeded to Maduguri, the next day we were in court and by May 29 not a single case was pending before any court(right from the tribunal, Appeal Court up to the Supreme Court. You would wonder why cases today last for years until the expiration of the tenure of the executives. What has happened? There is a disjointed relationship between the Bar and the Bench, the Bar on its side has his own role to play, the Bench also has its own role to play;” he lamented.
Abdullahi Yahya (SAN) Esq, Chairman Nigerian Bar Association, Barnawa, Kaduna decried the quality of some of the judges found on the bench. In the Judiciary today, we have persons who are not qualified to occupy offices occupying these offices, so, you can best imagine what will happen in such offices. These set of unqualified persons also create problems for those judges who are good. There are cases that you can’t assign to certain judges whether you appointed them or you met them in the system, you know what they can do. There are some controversial cases that to safeguard the name of the judiciary you need to assign them to persons who are responsible and persons who will act with circumspection and make the judiciary proud such that both the litigants and the lawyers will go away feeling that justice has been served. If there is a mistake as it sometimes happens, it is human that people make mistakes, no system is full proof that is the reason why from the Court of Appeal you have 3 Judges and at the Supreme Court you have at least 5 Judges. Even at that, there are times when the Supreme Court comes back to agree that they made a mistake for decisions made and they will tend to move from that decision to a new position.”
MIVE Legals (Ballason Chambers) is a law firm situate in House of Justice in Kaduna Nigeria.