Two scenarios always come to mind anytime I talk about options available to legal professionals and litigants in dispute settlements other than litigation. In the first scenario, a party is being owed N380,000 (three hundred and eighty thousand naira) by a company he rendered services to, he decides to take the company to a magistrate court to recover the said sum. As trial commences, he opens his case, calls his witnesses, and the defendants also open their defence, and say that indeed the claimant is being owed the monies, but by a different management of which the claimant is fully aware of the internal working arrangement.
Matter is being adjourned for continuation of defence, only for parties to come to court on the next adjourned date to find out that the magistrate has been transferred out of jurisdiction, meaning the matter has to start denovo (afresh). This happens after both parties had engaged the services of lawyers and paid them professional fees to represent them; and are incurring costs close to the amount being owed after several adjournments with no visible result in sight.
The second scenario is that of a judgment creditor who struggles to get judgment after three years of litigation, and is still yet to reap the fruit of his litigation two years after judgment was delivered. To this party, despite monies expended on the services of a legal professional during trial, he is still spending monies to execute such judgment with doubts of whether the judgment sum will be recovered.
This delay in justice dispensation is a result of an analogue and archaic system providing solutions in a digital age with information and communications technology transforming the world into a global village. Apart from an overburdened legal system, millennial legal professionals are yet to understand that the world has grown beyond waiting for years before justice is served.
To my mind, litigation which happens to be the major legal practice of lawyers in Nigeria is not as efficient as it ought to be, and it is not getting better because we are yet to explore other means of dispute resolution other than going to court. Take the first scenario for instance, a simple matter that negotiation can ordinarily solve with less cost and time finds its way to court’s cause list massing up resources of the judicial system, the lawyers and the parties which could be channeled to more serious issues.
For the avoidance of misconception, litigation is a very important aspect of the judicial system, because some disputes cannot be solved without resort to the court for adjudication. The idea is to ensure that this area of law gets the best result by dispensing justice quickly, and justice can only be dispensed in good time, when the resources of the court are put into cogent and contentious matters.
The rules of court though making provisions for pre-trial conferencing and scheduling with the aim of disposing issues not in contention, or proffer amicable settlements amongst parties, is yet to reach its full potentials as issues not in contention still get to trial proper.
Some have argued that legal professionals have overtime contributed to the delay in justice dispensation with frivolous suits and applications; it is my candid opinion, that the lawyers and officers of the system have to work hand in hand to reduce the burden placed on litigation.
If the lawyers refuse to explore alternative dispute resolution methods, then the Pre-trial conferencing ought to be conducted in ways to ensure that certain suits do not choke up the dockets of the court. The millennial lawyers on the other hand have to realize that litigation may not necessarily be the best option to dispute resolution, and try to advice clients on other means of settling dispute.
Negotiation does not mean weakness as some have erroneously come to believe. It is an alternative path that can be taken to achieve more with less, and maybe with time, the court’s docket will gradually free up to give way to speedy dispensation of matters before it.
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