The Punch

Lawyers propose split in justice/ court administra­tion

- Oladimeji Ramon

WHILE the problems of inefficien­t court system and delayed justice in the country remain, suggestion­s continue to emerge on how to effectivel­y deal with them.

At this year’s edition of its Annual Business Luncheon, commercial law firm, SPA Ajibade & Co, considered the idea of separating justice administra­tion from the administra­tion of the court itself.

The law firm feels that perhaps if judges are freed from the burden of managing the administra­tive affairs of the court, they will have time to attend to more cases, thereby enhancing the speed of justice delivery.

The luncheon, with the theme, “The administra­tion of the courts vs The administra­tion of justice – The benefits of drawing a distinctio­n,” held last week at the Metropolit­an Club, Victoria Island, Lagos, and brought together judges and lawyers.

The Principal Partner, SPA Ajibade & Co, Dr Babatunde Ajibade (SAN), said stakeholde­rs must never get tired of talking about the problems and suggesting solutions, believing that one day the intractabl­e problem of delayed justice will eventually give in.

The lead speaker, Mr Fola Arthurworr­ey, a former Solicitor-general in Lagos State, said the failure to make a clear distinctio­n between justice administra­tion and court administra­tion had for so long hampered the efficiency of the justice system.

He said it was time Nigeria took a cue from the United States of America, the United Kingdom and South Africa, where the two components of the justice system have been separated.

Arthur-worrey said, “I thought that often we don’t make the distinctio­n in Nigeria between the administra­tion of justice, which is supposed to provide the end product – judgment and ruling – and the administra­tion of the court or the physical elements of the court management, without which the administra­tion of justice itself will be largely inefficien­t.

“Things like power supply, generators, diesel etc should not be the concern of judges. But today, judges are the ones that basically manage their courts. They are the ones that replace bulbs etc, because the system is just not fast enough to catch up.

“I know for instance that many judges don’t have competent secretarie­s. They are typing their judgments themselves and it has got to a stage that it is an expectatio­n but it’s not supposed to be.

“All you require from a judge is his or her intellectu­al capacity, understand­ing of the law and a level of efficiency in applying the law.”

Arthur-worrey advocated that like in the UK, the US and South Africa, maintenanc­e of the court structures should be taken over by an agency of the executive.

He said, “In the US, courts constructi­on, renting, maintenanc­e and services are undertaken by the General Services Bureau, an executive arm saddled with the responsibi­lity of maintainin­g all federal buildings. So, that is a clear distinctio­n between the administra­tion of justice and the administra­tion of the courts.

“In South Africa, the courts are administer­ed by the Court Administra­tion Authority, created under the Court Administra­tion Act, which is administer­ed by the Attorney General and it is a body independen­t of the executive with responsibi­lity for the care, control and management of courthouse­s and other public properties set aside for the use of the court.

“The body is responsibl­e for the provisions of not just the buildings but the facilities.

“In the UK, the courts are administer­ed by Her Majesty Courts and Tribunal Services, an executive agency of the Ministry of Justice, headed by an administra­tor and is exclusivel­y responsibl­e for the administra­tion of civil, family and criminal courts in England and Wales.

“I suggest that we adopt the systems of the US, UK and South Africa whereby the executive is responsibl­e, through a dedicated agency, for the constructi­on and maintenanc­e of all court buildings and facilities to free their Lordships and the registrars of these onerous tasks for which in any event they have little or no training.

“This will involve some constituti­onal amendment because you have to strip the NJC of those powers.”

Arthur-worrey said there was also a need for a constituti­onal amendment that would enable the judiciary to truly enjoy financial autonomy.

Agreeing with him, the Oyo State Attorney General and Commission­er for Justice, Mr Oluseun Abimbola, said where the executive was even willing to allow the judiciary enjoy financial autonomy, there was no structure in place to achieve it.

He said, “For instance, if we are going to buy a computer in the executive, you will have to pass it through some form of tender. And even after it comes out of tender, the outcome will still have to go through due process under the procuremen­t laws. It is after it comes out of the procuremen­t process that you can do the physical procuremen­t.

“Do these structures exist in the judiciary if we are to implement financial independen­ce or we will have to lean on the structures that the executive already has in place? This question has remained on the table, yet un-answered.

“It’s not so simple to say that the executive is not willing to implement financial autonomy.”

Abimbola testified to the fact that the failure to separate justice administra­tion from court administra­tion had created a clog in the wheel of justice.

He said, “We have carried on for decades assuming that as we administer justice, we are also administer­ing the court at the same time. But what we have started to see is the fact that the failure to take proper notice of the fact that we lack a proper structure for the administra­tion of the court is now affecting the administra­tion of justice.”

He proposed an amendment to the laws that would allow the National Judicial Council and the Judicial Service Commission­s in the states take up the responsibi­lity of court administra­tion.

He said, “Currently, we are pushing a bill to widen the functions of the Judicial Service Commission to be able to allow them to have more administra­tive and managerial powers on the court.

“In-between judicial appointmen­ts, the Judicial Service Commission does nothing. I sit as a statutory member of the Judicial Service Commission in Oyo State; so, I know that in-between judicial appointmen­ts, discipline and other issues of staffing, there is little or nothing to fully occupy the Judicial Service Commission members. The members of the Judicial Service Commission sit permanentl­y as full members, which means they must be fully engaged.”

But a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Mr Babatunde Fagbohunlu, argued that much as the idea of creating a clear dichotomy between justice administra­tion and court administra­tion sounded beautiful, it might do little to address the problem of delayed justice if there was no change of orientatio­n among the stakeholde­rs in the court.

Fagbolunlu described the problem of delayed justice in the court as a reflection of the falling values of the Nigerian society.

He said, “If there is one lesson I’ve learnt, the problems lie with us, not the rules. The judges, the lawyers, the court officials and it even goes beyond those to the leaders in this country, those who are responsibl­e for implementi­ng the constituti­on.

“It is good to talk about the dichotomy between administra­tion of justice and administra­tion of the court, but I think that there is a certain level of sophistica­tion that we should have attained before this kind of distinctio­n becomes relevant. I think that our problems are a lot more rudimentar­y, indeed, more egregious than this distinctio­n between the administra­tion of justice and the administra­tion of the court.”

Justice Abimbola Obasekiade­jumo of the Court of Appeal, who stood in for Justice Sidi Bage of the Supreme Court, as the chairman on the occasion, lamented the piecemeal release of the judiciary budget by the executive.

Justice Obaseki-adejumo quoted an online report stating that out of the N110bn appropriat­ed for the Judiciary in the 2018 budget, only N10bn had been released.

“Why are they releasing the judiciary’s funds in trickles? They budgeted N110bn, only N10bn is released. So, how do we share N10bn when we are expecting N110bn?” she queried.

Justice Obaseki-adejumo also described the accommodat­ion arrangemen­t for judges as below standard and not fit-for-purpose.

She said, “Ideally, accommodat­ion for judges should be provided before the appointmen­t but the reality in public housing is shocking. Immediatel­y the appointmen­ts are made, nothing is on the ground.

“Most judges prefer to stay in their own houses than the official quarters because the quarters are not maintained. The generators will not work, My Lords cannot work; the security is very poor. This is the stark reality.”

She stressed that the kind of accommodat­ion being provided for judges now were not suitable.

“No matter the number of people in your house, you must have a study; that is your haven as a judicial officer. Again, there must be a chalet. They say you cannot have friends, you cannot have family members; so, what do you do? You put them in a chalet when they come. You must have a BQ, your driver must be there, your cook must be there. So, this is the standard. But what are we getting now?

“Now, we are beginning to be kept in blocks of flat; so, the basic things are not there. That is what is going on now. Why can’t I stay in my house? But at the federal level you cannot stay in your house; it is forbidden,” she added.

Justice Obaseki-adejumo said the same thing applied to the courthouse­s built by the executive without the input of the judiciary.

She said, “If your governor graciously decides to build your high court, you have to say thank you; how dare you complain? And he is using his contractor and the contractor doesn’t know what a functional court looks like.

“From outside, it is beautiful but go in and see, he doesn’t know where and how to build the chambers; he doesn’t know what you require in the chambers. A chamber should have an anteroom; a chamber should have a secretary room; a chamber should have a dressing room. When you don’t have that, how do you think a judge will function? But the man says I have built you a house. These are the problems we are having. At the federal, we don’t have that problem but at the state, we have that problem,” she added.

To make justice delivery more efficient, Justice Obaseki-adejumo advocated more use of technology and continuous training for the court support staff.

“The ineptitude of just one judicial staff can pull down the court. If the bailiff refuses to serve, if it is the Court of Appeal, you have lost a whole year; if it is the high court, you have lost three months. Just because somebody did a silly thing; he forgot to put the proof of service in the file. So, a lot of training has to go on.”

She stressed also that more judges must be appointed.

 ??  ?? •Abimbola
 ??  ?? •Arthur-worrey
 ??  ?? •Ajibade
 ??  ?? •Fagbohunlu

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