Digitalisation of the Supreme Court: Way Forward for the Nigerian Legal Professional
In this article, Richmond Idaeho reviews the digitalisation of the Supreme Court of Nigeria, vis a vis its prospects and the way forward, concluding that, it is a welcome development in legal practice in Nigeria
ctivities all over the globe have become electronically driven, such that the use of digital technology in systems and operations across various sectors of the economy, has become indispensable. The legal profession can neither remain aloof nor be left out.
The use of technology and its inevitability in the legal profession, both as an asset and a competitive advantage in our contemporary times, cannot be far-fetched. Hence, my adoption of the word, “technolawgy” to describe this phenomenon.
The Supreme Court of Nigeria goes Digital
Recently, the Supreme Court of Nigeria, has adopted and keyed into this technolawgical transformation and consequently, issued a mandate aimed at phasing out the manual means of filing and serving court papers by July 2018. In this regard, filing of court processes at the Supreme Court will be done electronically, and service of the said processes on parties, will be effected electronically.
By this development, communications between judges, court staff and lawyers on the one hand, and between lawyers themselves on the other hand, will only be through electronic means. To ensure the success of this scheme, the Chief Justice of Nigeria and Chairman of the National Judicial Council, Honourable Justice Walter Onnoghen (CJN), had said that a legal email platform had been set up to replace the hitherto deficient analogue system.
The new system, described as the “retrofitted court and legal email system”, will require all lawyers to acquire the “legal email” (which is different from the regular freely available web-based emails), in order to prosecute cases at the Supreme Court, commencing from 16th July 2018. This legal email, is strictly for members of the bar and the bench. At the moment, the digital system has commenced alongside the manual system, as lawyers who had already acquired the legal email could use the legal email for communicating with the court and between themselves. The transitioning will however, continue until the deadline of 16th July, 2018, when the manual system will be completely phased out.
To this extent, by the end of the deadline, it will become mandatory for all lawyers to acquire the legal email, as this will become the only means of communication between lawyers and the court, and the filing and service of court processes at the Supreme Court on all matters, will only be by electronic means. Accordingly, all court processes required to be filed at the Supreme Court from the date of the deadline, must bear the Counsel’s legal email address.
Further, the Nigerian Case Management System, had been developed and deployed for this purpose of automating the Nigerian judiciary.
Hence, the CJN implored all judges and lawyers, to join in the quest for excellence in the judiciary in ensuring the success of the new digital system of the court, by “subscribing to, and acquiring the legal email, as manual forms of communication with the Nigerian courts will soon be phased out”.
It will be of interest to state that, the Supreme Court has been on this quest since 2012 when the Judicial Information Technology Policy Committee (headed by Justice Kashim Zannah, the Chief Judge of Borno State), was inaugurated by the late Justice Dahiru Musdapher (CJN, as he then was). The introduction of the new legal email, is a major component of this policy.
Prospects of Digital Technology in the Nigerian Judicial System
The policy, through which the instant legal email is being championed, was set up to enhance justice delivery in the Nigerian courts. By this token, the legal email is expected to ensure “seamless exchange of information electronically within the judicial ecosystem”. The success of the system, is expected to be replicated in all other courts in the near future, as “the Nigerian judiciary is committed to employing cutting- edge technology to enhance justice administration and providing citizens with the justice system they deserve; one that is transparent, fast and accessible.”
This policy will also enable proper management of documents within the Nigerian courts, and ensure speedy and efficient administration of justice in the Nigeria judicial system.
Furthermore, when this policy is successfully implemented, and with patronage from all judges and lawyers, filing and service of court processes, will no longer be as cumbersome as it used to be. In this wise, enormous resources, particularly with respect to the cost of paper and other stationeries, will be saved. The difficulty and costs associated with service of the processes, will also be dispensed with, as by just one click, processes can be served on the relevant parties.
The system will also ensure a reduction (if not elimination) of costs associated with “processing” of court processes at the Registry, delays and other logistics such as travel costs amongst others. Thus, court processes could be filed at the Supreme Court without the need to travel to the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, for that purpose.
Also, the number of billable man-hours spent in initialling, assessing and filing court processes at the Registry, and the associated costs of such billable man-hours, would be significantly curtailed. To this extent, the time saved from all of these activities, can be put into other meaningful ventures.
Thus, the new digital system, has the advantage of dispensing with the physical presence of counsel in filing of processes. This means that, a lawyer in say, Sokoto in the North, Ibadan in the West, Enugu in the East, or Port Harcourt in the South, could file their court processes at the Supreme Court, without being physically present at the Court.
Lastly, the policy would achieve greatly, the eradication of quacks in the legal profession, as it will ensure that only persons duly registered in the Roll of Legal Practitioners are provided with the unique legal email. This will complement the use of lawyers’ seal, presently being issued by the Nigerian Bar Association.
In view of this development, it is my humble recommendation, that the registration for and acquisition of the legal email, should be made as seamless as possible. The process should be fast and efficient, such that lawyers are able to conclude the exercise of acquiring the legal email before the deadline.
Also, the email server should be up-to-date with optimal capacity, and must not be prone to intrusion and breakdown. There should be proper data management and protection, such that information supplied are not unlawfully intercepted, hacked or lost, as the case may be.
As a follow up to the above, the email server must be available at all times for use, and free from congestion. This will speed up the filing process, and associated service of the court processes.
Additionally, there should be a proper and updated data base of all lawyers, so as to ease the use of the system. In this regard, a synchronisation of the data with that already available to the Nigerian Bar Association through the registration of legal practitioners for the lawyers’ seal, could be considered, so as to avoid unnecessary duplicity of information or data.
On the whole, the current digital revolution or transformation in legal practice, is a welcome development. It is hoped that the new legal email and the attendant digital policy, will effectively enhance the nation’s justice delivery, and will address the current challenges bedevilling information management and communication, within the Nigerian court system.
“THUS, THE NEW DIGITAL SYSTEM, HAS THE ADVANTAGE OF DISPENSING WITH THE PHYSICAL PRESENCE OF COUNSEL IN FILING OF PROCESSES. THIS MEANS THAT, A LAWYER IN SAY, SOKOTO IN THE NORTH, IBADAN IN THE WEST, ENUGU IN THE EAST, OR PORT HARCOURT IN THE SOUTH, COULD FILE THEIR COURT PROCESSES AT THE SUPREME COURT, WITHOUT BEING PHYSICALLY PRESENT AT THE COURT”