Lagos – In a bid to decongest the court, the Lagos State Judiciary is poised to eliminate old cases through its Backlog Elimination Programme (BEP).
Justice Opeyemi Oke, Lagos Chief Judge, disclosed that the courts were in the state of emergency following the evaluation of 2,886 old case files, including a 70-year-old case.
She said the 70-year-old case, which is the oldest, was “seeking to enforce a judgment.”
The BEP is a programme designed to decongest the courts by re-evaluation of old cases and finding ways of resolving them through Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) or accelerated hearing.
Justice Oke disclosed this Thursday while declaring open ‘The Lagos Backlog Elimination Programme 2018’ organised by the Lagos State Judiciary, BEP and the Lagos Court of Arbitration (LAC) held at the Foyer of the High Court of Lagos State, Igbosere.
Justice Oke recalled that at her inauguration in October last year, she identified as foremost, inordinate delay and court congestion, which have disfigured governance system of judicial administration and form the bane of the Lagos judiciary and her promise to redress the problems on assumption of duty in order to restore public confidence in Lagos Judiciary and to make administration of justice quick and efficient in Lagos State.
The Chief Judge lamented the “delay has led to public ridicule of the judiciary which is supposed to be the hope of the common man. This delay, coupled with the continuous filing of new cases has led to congestion of the court with a ridiculous number of backlog of cases, the result of which the courts are now in a state of emergency.
“At present, there are hundreds of cases in the court dockets aged over five years, the oldest of which is 70- year-old case. This is very different to what can be said to be a reasonable time. Ideally, the matters ought to be concluded in weeks, months or at most a year. Many of these cases ought not to be in court at all as they could have been resolved through ADR,” she noted.
Citing Section 36(1) of the 1999 Constitution as amended, she emphasised that the rights to fair and reasonable timely trial before a court or tribunal is one of fundamental rights of Nigerians.
She said it explained the need for action to be taken to redress the situation through the BEP and recourse to ADR.
“This why the BEP was commissioned in January 2018 and aimed to decongest high court of Lagos State of the mentioned old cases,” she said.
Justice Oke disclosed that the first phase of the BEP which was ongoing involves the evaluation of old cases in batches from volunteers from different law firms, adding that they were through with the first batch involving case files aged five years and above.
The second batch, she said, involves case files of 10 years and above, while the third batch involved case files aged 15 yrs and above.
She said work was ongoing on files involving case filed aged 25 years and above.
“After evaluation, facts of each case are summarised, causes of delay identified and recommendation would be made as to efficient means of disposal whether by ADR or accelerated hearing,” she said.
Giving summary of the cases evaluated, Justice Oke disclosed that land matters accounted for majority of the backlog of cases, followed by commercial matters which based on breach of contacts, debt recovery, mortgage matters, bank and customers related disputes, matrimonial cases, probate and enforcement of judgments adding that majority of the cases are at trial stages.
On the possibility of settlement, she disclosed that 59.3 per cent of the cases were not suitable for ADR while 49.3 per cent were suitable for resolution through the mechanism.
She added that the remaining 1.4 per cent was either recommended to be struck out, or parties have reportedly settled matrimonial cases but that settlement to ancillary reliefs can be referred to ADR.
Other causes, she said, included delay occasioned by court indisposition, protracted settlement period, court not sitting at various intervals due to official assignments, interlocutory appeals and numerous interlocutory applications brought before the court.
She disclosed that under the second phase, the re-evaluated cases would be referred to the court for Case Management Conference (CMC) by a special order of the Chief Judge of high court of Lagos State and based on individual recommendation, referred to Lagos Court of Arbitration (LCA) and other ADR institutions for resolution by mediation or arbitration as the case may be.
Mr. Yemi Candide-Johnson, President of LCA, who delivered a lecture on the occasion entitled, “Discussing the Future of Access to Justice and Delivery of Justice in Lagos State: the Role of the Courts and Backlog Elimination Programme” said all indices confirmed that civil justice system was failing and that delay especially was affecting prompt, efficient and effective justice to the users of the court.
This is damaging governance in Lagos and the business environment,” he said.
The LCA President lamented huge cost of litigation and blamed the situation on indolent and unprepared counsel, noting that such can give a country’s legal system bad reputation.
He advised that judges should not be afraid but to exercise their power and authority in order to prevent these pitfalls.
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Author: Titilope Joseph