This forum was imperative at a time young lawyers are discouraged by the long time cases spend in court for adjudication. Sometimes litigants are forced to take their grievances to God, not because they don’t want justice here on earth but because they lose interest because of the years they spend pursuing justice in the Nigerian courts – be it the superior courts of record or the lower courts.
This is one of the numerous predicaments of a young lawyer in active litigation. Take for instance a suspect in police custody who is ready to pay large sums of money at the police station to secure his immediate release than wait for his lawyer to go to court and apply for an order directing the police to release him on police bail or charge him to court, which may take longer than forty eight (48) hours. It is for this reason that most investigating police officers (IPOs) frustrate young counsel applying for police bail on behalf of their clients.
Which begs the question, is the delay in effective determination of justice caused solely by our court system or is the BAR partly responsible for the number of years cases spend in court before judgment? In the event of front loading and pre-trial conferences and scheduling where the courts ought to settle certain issues and outline a timetable of definite days for trial and address, why is it still difficult to determine a contentious matter within one year, at most two years?
Even the lower court that is ordinarily vested with summary jurisdiction, counsel are always faced with prosecutors bringing excuses like ‘missing case diaries’, ‘investigating police officer on official assignment’ or, the most popular excuse, ‘awaiting legal advice from the Ministry of Justice’ to stall the dispensation of justice.
The Justice for All (J4A) programme in February 2014 with its pro bono lawyers secured the release on bail of one Mr. Hyginus Ajibo, the longest serving awaiting trial prisoner in Enugu. The said Mr. Ajibo had spent 16 years in prison awaiting trial for murder (emphasis on 16 years). I doubt if the IPO in the police station when the complaint was brought would still be there after such number of years. This tragedy in our justice system contributes in its own way in hampering the development of a young lawyer’s practice in the legal profession.
On the part of the Bar, in whose favour is unnecessary adjournments? Using the example cited by the Chief Judge of Kaduna State, Hon. Justice Tanimu Zailani, that lawyers write letters seeking adjournment to go and release their girls in Chibok but in reality are in another court within jurisdiction. In the same vein, counsel make frivolous and unnecessary applications from preliminary objections to amendments just to delay trial from coming to an end. While no one can stop lawyers from making applications such should be done in the interest of justice.
One might say, this young wig (i.e the writer) doesn’t know what he is saying, but truth be said, with the advent of frontloading, pre-trial conference and written statement on oath of witnesses, cases ordinarily shouldn’t go beyond two (2) years. When cases take longer than five – seven years from commencement to judgment, what hope is there for the young wig who would no longer be a young wig by the time the case is concluded? We are not even talking of appeal.
Alternative dispute resolution and the multi-door court house are provided to simplify access to justice, not every case is meant for court litigation, some can easily be disposed of by sitting the parties down and finding amicable solution to the problem.
As learnt in the forum, agents of justice be it the court, Bar, Nigerian Police etcetera should do a self-assessment and evaluate ways they contribute to the delay of justice and proffer workable solutions on how to get the wheels of justice running at a good pace.
To young wigs, not every case is meant to go to court, it is cheaper, less stressful and faster to use the alternative dispute resolution than in litigation where most often than not, one even forgets that he collected money for the case and yet, there is no visible end to the case.
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