Access To Justice And Multi-Door Courthouse System In Nigeria; Challenges And Prospects By Samuel A. Oguntuyi, Esq.

Access To Justice And Multi-Door Courthouse System In Nigeria; Challenges And Prospects By Samuel A. Oguntuyi, Esq.

INTRODUCTION

The Court or the judicial system as an institution for the adjudication of disputes and claims is an age-long system. Through the years, it has evolved from the traditional method of practice to a more regimented model in every modern society. Significantly, its role in the administration of justice is sacrosanct to a peaceful and stable human society. Being the third arm of government, it is instructive that the Judiciary today provides guidance on what the law is, and how people should conduct themselves to ensure they are in compliance with it.Unarguably, the primary dispute resolution process available to litigants through the formal justice system is litigation before the courts. Conventionally, the Court’s doors are open to the public, hence the colloquial reference to the judiciary as the last hope for the common man. This is in view of the all-important responsibility of justice dispensation assigned to them by society. However, despite these crucial roles of the judiciary, the judicial process is often painstakingly slow and leaves much to be desired. This has occasioned loss of confidence in using the courts as it is mostly believed that Justice served at a later time has as little impact as justice not being served at all.[1]

It is instructive that an effective judicial system is critical to inspire a sustainable environment of economic and social stability and the rule of law, in which other critical sectors can flourish.

Accordingly, the clamour for judicial reform has been a recurrent decimal in the annals of our socio-legal life, as well as in the history of many developing countries of the world. It is therefore important to state that one of the key areas of judicial reform is access to justice.

Thus, the success of a judicial system is measured in terms of its aptitude to provide timely and appropriate justice to parties in a dispute; sadly, the Nigerian justice system is overburdened, sluggish, expensive, complex, and even made cumbersome. Many poor and vulnerable persons cannot access the court as a result of acute impecuniousity and the eroding confidence in the system hence, the expedient need to deploy an alternative system.

THE MULTI-DOOR COURT HOUSE CONCEPT

The Multi-door courthouse is a concept first brought to light in 1976 by Professor Frank E. A. Sander, Professor of Law Emeritus at the Harvard Law School. He sought to expand on a lecture earlier delivered in 1906 by Professor Roscoe Pound about the problems associated with delayed justice delivery. To solve this problem, Sander proposed the concept of the Multi-door courthouse where citizens could have access to various alternative ways of resolving their dispute. In that address, Sander’s proposed solution of a dispute resolution center offering a multitude of dispute resolution services addressed two main concerns or causes:[2]

First, matching dispute resolution mechanisms to the individual character of the dispute and secondly reforming the systems of Court and their procedure. Furthermore, his fundamental suggestion and the one that is of lasting importance to us was to explore alternative ways of resolving disputes to the adversarial and litigious procedure and to institutionalize the alternative dispute resolution processes in a single resolution center. Sander was considered to develop a system of justice that was most effective in handling the full suite of disputes that came before the courts. This necessitated first addressing the characteristics of the various dispute resolution processes and secondly developing criteria for allocating various types of disputes to different dispute resolution processes.[3]

Sander reminded conference participants of the limitations of traditional litigation with its “use of a third party with coercive power, the usually ‘win or lose’ nature of the decision, and the tendency of the decision to focus narrowly on the immediate matter in issue as distinguished from a concern with the underlying relationship between the parties.”[4]

THE MULTI-DOOR CONCEPT IN NIGERIA

The first multi-door courthouse in Africa, the Lagos Multi-Door Courthouse (LMDC) was established in Lagos, Nigeria on June 11, 2002. This was done via collaboration between the Negotiation and Conflict Management Group (NCMG) and the High Court of Lagos State. The High Court of Lagos provided space while the NCMG and the Law firm of Aina, Blankson & Co. funded the project. Abuja Multi-Door Courthouse followed in 2003.[5] Many other states have thereafter established Multidoor Courthouses including Kano, Enugu, Akwa-Ibom, Rivers, Cross River, Delta, Ogun, Oyo, Kaduna, Ondo, Bayelsa, Abia, Edo, Borno and Katsina State; there were up to 15 at the last count.[6]

Though the concept of the Multidoor Courthouse is relatively new in Nigeria, many countries including the United Kingdom, Canada and United States have long embraced the concept. Multi-Door Courthouses are court connected ADR centres which help parties settle disputes through mediation and other types of ADR mechanisms, including Mediation, Arbitration, Early Neutral Evaluation other Hybrid processes. All types of cases are resolved Conciliation and especially through Mediation. These include loan default defamation mild Custody/maintenance, of Estates, negligence, Administration of Estates, Banking, employment, land, breach of contract and landlord and tenant conflicts. “Multi-Door” envisions one courthouse with multiple dispute resolution doors through which cases are compartmentalised appropriately. The multi-door courthouse provides citizens with easy access to justice, reduce delay in justice delivery, and provide links to related services, making more options available through which disputes can be resolved. The use of ADR at the MDC assists parties to reach agreements that meet their interests, preserve relationships, and save time and money.

Objectives:

Generally, the objectives of an MDC in Nigeria are to:

(a) Enlarge resources for justice by providing enhanced, timely, cost-effective and user-friendly access to justice for would-be and existing Claimants and Defendants[7]

(b) Enhance access to justice by providing alternative mechanisms to supplement litigation in the resolution of disputes[8]

(c) Minimize citizen frustration and delays in justice delivery by providing a standard legal framework for fair and efficient settlement of disputes through Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR):[9]

(e) Serve as the focal point for the promotion of Alternative Dispute Resolution in the State:[10] and

(f) Promote the growth and effective functioning of the justice delivery system through Alternative Dispute Resolution methods.[11]

The main functions of an MDC include:[12]

(1) Applying mediation, conciliation, negotiation arbitration neutral evaluation and any other ADR mechanisms in the resolution of such disputes as may from time to time be referred to it, from the courts, Private Persons, Corporations, Public institutions and dispute resolution organizations.

(2) Encouraging disputing parties to appear before it for the resolution of their disputes.

(3) Assisting parties in the resolution of their disputes and act as administrators in the conduct of ADR proceeding locally or internationally.

(4) Publicizing its service by informing and sensitizing the public about its facilities.

(5) Rendering assistance in the conduct of ad-hoc arbitration or mediation proceedings.

(6) Encouraging disputing parties whose matters are already listed before the court for hearing to appear before it to explore settlement options.

(7) Maintaining registers of suitably qualified persons to act as mediators, arbitrators or natural evaluators.

(8) Promote or undertake projects or other activities including but not limited to the settlement week, which in the opinion of the Council will further assist in decongesting the courts and help to achieve the purpose for which it was established.

There are three ways in which a matter can come before the Multi-Door Courthouse:

  1. By Court referrale. the Court refers the matter to the Multi-Door Court House.
  2. By parties walking into the Multi-Door Court House themselves
  3. By direct intervention by the workers of the Multi-Door Court House of the Negotiation and Conflict Management Group (NCMG).

ALTERNATIVE DISPUTE RESOLUTION (ADR)

The term Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) is used generally to describe the different methods and procedures used in resolving dispute either as alternatives to the traditional dispute resolution mechanism of the court system or in some cases supplementary to such mechanisms. Alternative Dispute Resolution comprises various approaches for resolving disputes in a non-confrontational way, ranging from negotiation between the two parties, a multi-party negotiation, through mediation, consensus building, to arbitration and adjudication. ADR can also refer to everything; from facilitated settlement negotiations in which disputants are encouraged to negotiate directly with each other prior to some other legal process, to arbitration systems or mini-trials that look and feel very much like a courtroom process.[13]

THE LEGAL REGIMES

  • CONSTITUTION OF THE FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA

Section 19(d) approves arbitration in Nigeria

  • FEDERAL HIGH COURT ACT CAP. F12, 2004

Section 17 provides:

  1. In any proceedings in the court, the court may promote reconciliation among the parties thereto and encourage and facilitate he amicable settlement thereof.
  • THE RULES OF PROFESSIONAL CONDUCT FOR LEGAL PRACTITIONERS, 2007 (RPC)

The RPC also adopted the usage of ADR as can be seen in the following rules;

Rule 15(3): Representing client within the bounds of the law

(3) In his representation of his client, a lawyer shall not –

(a) fail or neglect to inform his client of the option of alternative dispute resolution mechanisms before resorting to or continuing litigation on behalf of his client.

  • THE HIGH COURT ACT, LFN, 2004

Section 18 of the High Court Act, states:

  1. Where an action is pending, the Court may promote reconciliation among the parties thereto and encourage and facilitate the amicable settlement thereof.

See also Section 26 and 27 of the District Court Act, Cap 495Sections 82 through to 88 provide specifically for Officials, Special Referees and Arbitrators.

  • NATIONAL JUDICIAL POLICY

On the 30th September 2013, the Hon. Justice Aloma Maryam Mukhtar, GCON gave under her hand the National Judicial Policy. Section 6(g) and 11 of that policy states:

“6 (a) In order to enhance Access to Justice, more courts should be built especially at the lower level, so that justice is brought to the doorsteps of all the citizenry

(g) Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) should be adopted by all courts.”

“11(a) All judiciaries within the Federal Republic of Nigeria should ensure that all courts in their jurisdictions further the overriding objective of justice by actively managing cases (b) A judicial officer shall always encourage parties before the court to explore Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) procedure where appropriate.”

  • INTERNATIONAL ARBITRATION LAWS

E.g. the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL Model Law of 1985) and UNCITRAL Arbitration Rules have been domesticated in Nigeria by virtue of the Arbitration and Conciliation Act (ACA).

These laws therefore enjoin the courts to promote ADR. The problem before now has been lack of a forum or a structured process through which the court will achieve its mandate as stipulated in the Acts.

PRINCIPAL STATE ACTORS IN THE OPERATION OF THE MULTIDOOR COURTHOUSE IN NIGERIA

  1. Lagos Multi-Door Courthouse

The Lagos Multi-Door Courthouse (LMDC) was established on 11 June, 2002, as a public-private partnership between the High Court of Justice, Lagos State and the Negotiation and Conflict Management Group (NCMG), a

non-profit private organization. It was the first court-connected Alternative Dispute Resolution Centre in Africa.

Legal Frameworks:

ORDER 8 of the High Court of Lagos State (Civil Procedure) Rules 2019 provides:

“All originating processes filed in the Registry shall be screened to determine suitability for ADR and may be referred to the Lagos Multi Door Court House or any appropriate ADR institution or Practitioner in line with the Practice Direction issued by the Chief Judge.”

ORDER 28 of the Lagos Rules also provides for the mode of application and enforcement of arbitral awards.

Lagos Multi-Door Courthouse Law includes:

  1. The creation of ADR judges with powers to compel an unwilling party to take part in the ADR process in situations where at least one of the parties to a dispute is willing to seek ADR.
  2. Ensuring that all “terms of settlement” are enforceable as orders of the High Court, thereby giving legal weight to agreements which may not have ever been litigated in addition to providing security for parties that the ADR process, if successful, will result in a legally enforceable judgment of the High Court of Lagos.
  • The Multi-Door Courthouse model of the LMDC has lent itself to replications in other jurisdictions such as Abuja and Kano and in other states where the judiciary have indicated an interest in having an MDC established.[14]

THE ABUJA MULTI-DOOR COURTHOUSE (AMDC)

Sixteen months into the establishment of the Lagos Multi-Door Courthouse, specifically on October, 13 2003 the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory established the Abuja Multi- Door Courthouse (AMDC) in Abuja. It was officially commissioned by the then Chief Justice of Nigeria.[15] The AMDC is wholly funded and staffed by the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory.

Legal Frameworks

Order 2 Rule 7 of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory (Civil Procedure Rules), 2018 provides:

“7. All originating processes shall upon acceptance for filing by the registry be screened for suitability for ADR, and where it is considered appropriate, the chief judge may refer the case to:

(1) The Abuja Multi Door Court House.

(2) Or other appropriate ADR institutions or practitioners in accordance with the practice directions that shall from time to time be issued by the chief judge of Abuja.”

Order 19 on Alternative Dispute Resolution provides:

  1. It shall be the duty of a court or a judge to encourage settlement of matters either by: a) Arbitration b) Conciliation c) Mediation d) Or any other method of dispute resolution.

Furthermore, pursuant to S.259 the Constitution of The Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (As amended) empowering the Chief Judge of the High Court of the FCT, Abuja to make Rules regulating the practice and procedure of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, the Chief Judge of the High Court made the Practice Direction of the AMDC, which contains the rules that will guide proceedings at the AMDC.[16]

Commencement of Action at the AMDC

STAGE 1

1) Request Form (Form 1) is filled and filed at the AMDC by the initiating party, attaching a brief Statement of Issues (4 copies).[17]

2) Within 7 days of filing a Request Form at the AMDC, Notice of Referral is sent to the other party(ies) by the ADR Registrar along with a Submission Form (Form 2), Memorandum to Parties (Form 3) and a copy of the Applicant’s Statement of Issues.[18]

3) Within 7 days, the Responding party/ies is/are to return the duly completed Submission Form to the AMDC, indicating submission to the ADR processes and certification to the receipt and understanding of the Memorandum to Parties. Four (4) Copies of the Respondent’s brief Statement of Issues is to be attached.[19]

STAGE 2

4) The ADR Registrar confirms receipt of the Statement of Issues between parties. Thereafter, Intake Screening is carried out and a pre-session meeting may be convened with the Dispute Resolution Officer (DRO). Here, the process is explained, issues clarified, interest identified and an ADR process agreed upon.[20] At this stage, the DRO provide the parties with a Confirmation of Attendance Form (Form 4) and a Confidentiality Agreement Form (Form 5), which are to be filled and signed by the parties. Also the bio-data of the recommended neutral (Mediators or Arbitrators) are given to the parties so that they can select the neutral of their choice.[21]

STAGE 3

5) An ADR Session is scheduled tentatively, and a Notice sent to the Mediator or Arbitrator along with the Disclosure Form.[22] The Mediator or Arbitrator is to reply to the Notice within 7 days accepting or declining his nomination with the duly completed Disclosure Form returned to the ADR Registrar.

6) A Mediation or Arbitration session is convened.

Kinds of cases the AMDC Handle

Whether it is a commercial, employment, Banking, Maritime, Energy, a family or business dispute, the AMDC provides clients and their attorneys with effective alternatives for resolving disputes.

THE ENUGU STATE MULTI-DOOR COURTHOUSE (ESMDC).

The Enugu State Multi-Door Courthouse (ESMDC) on the 6th Sept 2018, opened its doors to the public. The ESMDC was conceived to offer alternative dispute resolution methods for resolving commercial disputes and ensuring speedy justice delivery within the State.[23]

Legal Frameworks:

Order 25 Rule 8 of the High Court Rules of Enugu State, 2020 provides:

“Subject to any other Law or Rules in force, the Judge may in appropriate cases during the pre-trial conference refer a matter to the Enugu State Multi-Door Courthouse or any other person or forum for amicable resolution of the case after which the terms of settlement duly signed by the parties and authenticated by the dispute resolution officer concerned shall be filed in Court for the Judge to adopt as a consent judgment”.

The Enugu State Multi-door Courthouse scheme like that of Lagos, is currently incorporated as part of the public justice system with the Objectives set out in as follows:

  1. Enhance access to justice by providing alternative mechanisms to supplement litigation in the resolution of disputes;
  2. Minimize citizen frustration and delays in justice delivery by providing a standard legal framework for the fair and efficient settlements of disputes through Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR);
  3. Serve as the focal point for the promotion of Alternative Disputes Resolution in Enugu State, and
  4. Promote the growth and effective functioning of the justice system through Alternative Dispute Resolution methods.[24]

These objectives are the same as that of the LMDC and other MDC in Nigeria because it was structured after the LMDC scheme or model. Hence, upon the completion of ADR proceedings in ESMDC, settlement agreements, which are duly signed by the parties, shall be enforced as a consent Judgment between the parties and the ADR Judge further endorses such contracts, it shall stand as a judgment of the Court.[25]

Functions and Powers of the ESMDC includes the power to-

Apply mediation, arbitration, neutral evaluation and any other ADR mechanisms in the resolution of such disputes as may be referred to the ESMDC, from the High Court, Magistrate Court and Courts of other

  • jurisdiction outside Enugu State, Federal courts, private persons, Corporations, Public Institutions and Dispute Resolution Organisations;[26]
  • Encourage disputing parties to appear before ESMDC for the resolution of their disputes;[27]
  • Assist disputants in the resolution of their conflicts or disputes and act as administrators in the conduct of ADR proceedings locally or internationally;[28]
  • Publicise its services by informing and sensitising the public about its facilities.[29]

Additionally, in sec. 25 (1) of the ESMDC aligned with the provisions of the order 25 Rule 1(I)(c) of the Rules of the High Court of Enugu State Civil; Procedure Rules. Which requires the judges to encourage and refer cases that are suited to ADR to ESMDC to facilitate just and speedy disposal of cases.[30] Thus the Chief Judge under the ESMDC law must initiate such practice directions as he or she may deem fit as may be necessary for the effective administration and prompt delivery of the ADR services at the ESMDC.

Scope of cases covered by the ESMDC 

The ESMDC provides clients and their counsel with effective alternatives for resolving disputes in commercial, family, land, trespass, inheritance, defamation & libel, landlord & tenant, and other conflicts. It has also dealt with some criminal aspect like simple offences and misdemeanours only except felonies (Restorative Justice Door).

THE STATISTICS

The Delay in justice delivery can best be appreciated in the light of the following study as quoted by Prof. Yemi Osinbajo SAN at the 4th NCMG African ADR Summit in November 2009:[31] The National average time taken to conclude cases; without the intervention of interlocutory applications is presented below;[32]

LAND CASES

High Court 6.2 years

Court of Appeal 4 years

Supreme Court 6 years

Total 16.2 years

CIVIL CASES

High Court 3.4 years

Court of Appeal 2.5 years

Supreme Court 4.5 years

Total 10.4 years 

CRIMINAL CASES

High Court 1.5 years

Court of Appeal 3.5 years

Supreme Court 2.0 years

Total 7 years

From statistics from the Lagos State Judiciary for the period between 2008 and 2010, 16,072 civil cases were filed before the Magistrate courts while 25,807 civil cases were assigned in the High court.[33] It is therefore only conceivable that as the state experience surging population, complex commercial transactions, social imbalance, and societal inequities, the cases would have risen beyond the 25,000 in 2021. Comparatively, statistics from the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory shows that between 2018 and 2020, a total of 15,271 civil cases were handled by the Court, while a total of 1,440 criminal cases were entertained by the Court between the said periods.[34]

A report by the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics about poverty and inequality from September 2018 to October 2019, said 40 percent of people in Nigeria lived below its poverty line of 137,430 naira (€323.60) a year[35] out of the (approximately 200 million) population.[36] This represents over 80 million people. Although Nigeria’s poverty profile for 2021 has not yet been released, it is estimated that the number of poor people will increase to 90 million, or 45% of the population, in 2022. Additionally, the mass of Nigeria’s population faces an almost 38% illiteracy level, representing an approximate 78 million Nigerians,[37] the cumulative effect of these challenges impact on the cost of accessing the litigation process, which includes costs of filing and the fees of the lawyers. From the foregoing statistical challenges, it is important to note that illiteracy and poverty of large sections of the citizenry portends grave concern to access to justice in Nigeria.

It is important to note that the problem of Court congestion and delay in Litigation being the primary mode of resolving disputes invariably leads to the congestion of the courts as its sole providers. For example, as at January 2019, there are fifty-nine (59) Hon. Judges and One Hundred and Fifty-Three (153) Magistrates in the Lagos State Judiciary[38] to serve an estimated population of 14,862,111.[39] Comparatively, as at November, 2021, there are thirty-six (36) Hon. Judges[40] and Ninety One (91) Magistrates[41] in the FCT Judiciary to serve an estimated population of 3,464,123[42] and these data shed some light on how overworked the judges and magistrates are and this situation is not peculiar to Lagos state but replicated throughout the country. The resulting consequence of this situation is the congestion of the dockets of these courts which invariably leads to delays in the machinery of justice in Lagos state. All these show that there is a need for the states in Nigeria to explore the possibility of providing multi-track processes for the resolution of disputes within their various justice systems. It is anticipated that this will give their citizens the option of using more cost effective and less complicated processes of dispute resolution.[43]

Statistical reports on the activities of the Lagos State Multi-Door Courthouse reveal relative progress in the number of cases being handled at the Centre in both Arbitration and Mediation. The Performance indicators for the Lagos State Multi-Door Courthouse show that the Centre has handled a total of 17,364 civil cases since its inception in 2002, with a Settlement Rate pegged at 59%.[44] Additionally, statistics show that between 2015-2021, a total of 14,250 civil cases were taken by the Centre, out of which 11,468 represents the number of Court-referred cases while 2,782 were Walk-In cases. It is also instructive to note that of the 14,250 civil cases taken, 7,822 cases were mediated, and 4,760 were successfully settled while 3,062 were not settled/stalled, leaving 6,428 cases either pending or abandoned at the Centre. The total number of criminal cases handled at the Centre between 2017 and 2021 shows that a total of 350 cases were mediated, out of which 246 were successfully settled, and leaving 104 cases stalled/not settled. The performance indicator shows a settlement rate of 70%.

Statistical details on the activities of the Abuja Multi-Door Courthouse, otherwise known as Justice Lawal Muhammadu Uwais Dispute Resolution Centre (UDRC) reveals that as at August, 2021, a total of 802 civil cases were handled by the Centre for arbitration and mediation between 2015 and 2021, out of which 391 were Walk-In cases and 411 were Court-Referred cases. Within the said period, 647 cases were disposed while 103 cases remain pending at the Centre as August, 2021. These figures from the Abuja ADR Centre represent a sharp contrast to the volume of cases handled by its Lagos Counterpart. While it is imperative to point out that the density of the Lagos population and the complexity of its political, social, and commercial activities may have accounted for the differential gap in figures, it is necessary to state that the Abuja scenario indicates a dismal showing when compared to the volume of cases handled by the FCT High Court with over 11,065 cases handled by the FCT High Court in 2021 alone.[45][46]

FURTHER CHALLENGES

There are several attendant problems besetting the effective operation of the ADR system in Nigeria; these include underfunding of ADR institutions, Lack of cooperation during ADR sessions; fear of loss of income by legal practitioners; perceived inability to enforce ADR settlements especially mediationfailure or neglect by legal practitioners to inform his client of the option of resorting to alternative dispute resolution mechanisms before resorting to or continuing litigation on behalf of his client, amongst other challenges.

A case which exemplifies the frustrations faced by litigants in their quest for a just and speedy determination of matters they are involved in is the case of EMEKA NWANA v. FEDERAL CAPITAL DEVELOPMENT AUTHORITY.[47] Mr. Nwana was a staff of the Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA) from May 1982 to 11th April 1989 when his appointment was terminated on the grounds that he had absented himself without leave and putting up fraudulent claims for journeys he never embarked upon. He sued the FCDA at the High Court of the FCT in 1989. Being dissatisfied with the judgment of the High Court delivered on Tuesday, 12, November 1991, he appealed to the Court of Appeal and that court delivered its judgment on Monday, 10th January 1994. A close consideration of the judgment of the Court of Appeal revealed that vital documents were not forwarded to it and it all the same went ahead to determine the appeal after formulating a lone issue for determination not in any way related to the issues for determination filed before the court. The appeal was thrown out and obviously aggrieved by this decision, Mr. Nwana appealed again to the Supreme Court. While allowing the appeal and setting aside the decision of the Court of Appeal via a judgment delivered on the 27th of April 2007, the Supreme Court remitted the case back to the lower court to be heard de novo. Other cases are EPEROKUN vUNIVERSITY OF LAGOS [(1986) 4 N.W.L.R. (Pt. 34) 162] where it took the High Court seven years to dispose of the case of wrongful termination of employment. ONAGORUWA vAKINREMI [(2001) 13 NWLR (Pt.729) 38 (2001) 6 S.C 35] took 21 years at the Supreme Court of Nigeria; NWADIOGBU vNNADOZIE [(2001) 12 NWLR (Pt. 727) 315] took 23 years to be disposed of.[48]

These cases are classical examples of what people suffer in courts daily mainly because the process is adversarial, inflexible, fraught with technicalities and above all, the sheer number of cases in the dockets of courts.

The MDC scheme was designed to remedy these two primary defects of litigation with a view to enhancing access to justice through the utilisation of various alternative dispute resolution mechanisms.[49]

PROSPECTS TO A SUCCESSFUL AND EFFECTIVE OPERATION OF THE MULTIDOOR SYSTEM IN NIGERIA

Considerably, what appears to be a right step in the right direction in the promotion of ADR in Nigeria is that the Nigerian Law School and various Faculties of Law across the nation’s universities have included ADR as part of their respective academic curriculum. Similarly, most of the Rules and Practice Directions of the respective High Courts and other Superior Courts across the country have provisions on ADR. However, it goes without saying that a lot more is required to stem the tide of undue delay in the administration and dispensation of justice in the country.

Accordingly, key players in the Judiciary need to take the frontline charge in ensuring that avenues are created within the courts for the resolution of disputes, and not just litigation. Judges must be keen to encourage amicable settlement of a matter at any stage of the proceedings. In the same vein, stakeholders in the legal profession such as the NBA should set up ADR committees or sub-committees which would comprise seasoned ADR experts to facilitate alternative resolution of disputes and organize trainings on all ADR mechanisms.

Similarly, the settlement rates of mediated disputes need to increase significantly to make the scheme worth the investment made by the government and the entirety of the country’s judiciary and disputants. There is no gainsaying the fact that a higher rate of settled cases will attract more disputants and of itself market the multi-door scheme to prospective disputants.

Furthermore, the respective Houses of Assembly of the states and the National Assembly should come up with legislations that encourage ADR.[50] Critically, the different levels of government in the country must ensure adequate funding of the various ADR institutions across the nation in order to reinforce infrastructure and strengthen personnel at the said centres.

The government and its agencies must do more in the enlightenment and orientation of the public through aggressive media campaigns, crusades and jingles. Relatively, legal practitioners must raise Public awareness through education of their clients on the availability of the option of ADR.

The cost of accessing ADR by disputants should, as a matter of expedient concern, be made free or if impracticable, heavily subsidized by the ADR centers or agencies of government responsible for its administration.

Significantly, it is recommended that effective punitive and sanctioning mechanisms must be invoked by the highest judicial authority in the land against legal practitioners. In this wise, the punitive sanction contained in R.55 of the Rules of Professional Conduct for Legal Practitioners2007 must be enforced by the said appropriate authority.

 

CONCLUSION

Differences arising from on-going personal relationships get complicated when litigation is resorted to because of the obvious win-lose nature of litigation. Court judgments identify clear winners and outright losers. The winner becomes a triumphant champion, the loser naturally does everything to undermine the judgment or wait for another day to take his pound of flesh. In most societies, the initiation of legal proceedings marks the beginning of a lifelong enmity between the parties and in extreme cases even future generations. Litigation is a win/lose means of dispute resolution. Such mode of resolving disputes is no longer fashionable especially at a time when the world has become a global village driving towards attainment of peace in all facets of life. ADR has proved to be a worthy alternative or option in achieving the ends of justice. Also, ADR is suitable for commercial, matrimonial and other civil suits where the relationships of the disputants are sought to be maintained or repaired. It is easier to engage, less expensive and gives room for participation of the disputants. The attempt here is not to outrightly condemn litigation or disparage it as being an inelegant alternative in dispute resolution, however, where it is the only option for resolving disputes, then the mono-door approach is prone to face the challenges of delay in justice dispensation, congestion, escalating cost, and incapable of meeting the challenges of modern day business related disputes.

_Samuel Oguntuyi, Esq., an Associate Counsel with Y.C Maikyau (SAN) & Co. writes from Wuse, Abuja. He can be reached on (samueladeola46@yahoo.com) 08132386317

SOURCES:

[1] Hon. Justice L.H. Gummi OFR, Former Chief Judge, High Court of the FCT- Abuja, Nigeria Sink or Swim: Evolving a Broader Definition of Courts Through the Multi-Door Approach to Dispute Resolution and the Implications it has for Traditional Court Systems. file:///C:/Users/VP/Downloads/41-102-1-SM.pdf (accessed 23 August, 2021)

2 Hon. Justice R.D. Harriman, “THE MULTI-DOOR COURT HOUSE CONCEPT AND JUSTICE DELIVERY IN NIGERIA”, being a Keynote address at the Inauguration of the Edo State Multidoor courthouse 20 January 2017. Data from https://edojudiciary.gov.ng/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/SPEECH-BY-H0N.-JUSTICE-ROLI-DAIBO-HARRIMAN-LLM-ON-THE-OCCASSION-OF-THE-INAUGURATION-OF-EDO-STATE-MULTIDOOR-COURT-BY-THE-OUTGOING-CHIEF-JUDGE-HON.-JUSTICE.-C.-O.-IDAHOSA..pdf (accessed on 23rd August, 2021)

3 Hon. Justice Brian J. Preston: “The land and Environmental Court of New South Wales: Moving towards a Multi- Door Courthouse”.

4 L. Ray & A. Clarke “The Multi Door Courthouse idea: Building the Courthouse of the Future … Today” (1985) Journal on dispute Resolution Vol. 1:1 7.

5 Data from https://lagosmultidoor.org/about-us/ (accessed 23rd August, 2021)

6 The Ogun State Multidoor Courthouse OMDC was first launched on 13th February, 2017, three Multi-Door Courthouses in Ijebu Ode, Sagamu and Ota had been inaugurated in 2018, 2019 and 2021 respectively.

7 Article 1, UDRC Practice Direction, 2018

8 S. 2 (a) Lagos MultiDoor Courthouse Law, 2007

9 Ibid para. (b)

10 Ibid para. (c)

11 Ibid para. (d)

12 S. 3 Lagos MultiDoor Courthouse Law, 2007

13 Yona Shamir, “ALTERNATIVE DISPUTE RESOLUTION APPROACHES AND THEIR APPLICATION IN WATER MANAGEMENT: A FOCUS ON NEGOTIATION, MEDIATION AND CONSENSUS BUILDING” UNESCO-IHP https://www.un.org/waterforlifedecade/water_cooperation_2013/pdf/adr_background_paper.pdf (accessed 23rd August, 2021)

14 Data from https://www.britishcouncil.org.ng/sites/default/files/multidoor_courthouse.pdf Alternative Dispute Resolution Multi-Door Courthouses.

15 Data from www.amdcng.net

16 UDRC Practice Direction, 2018

17 Article 2.2 (a) & (b) of the Practice Direction (PD) of the Abuja Multi-Door Courthouse

18 Ibid (c)

19 Ibid (d)

20 Article 3.1 & 3.2 Op cit.

21 Ibid 3.3

22 Ibid at page 11, paragraph 5

23Chinwe Egbunike-Umegbolu, “The Enugu State Multi-Door Courthouse (ESMDC)” https://www.mediate.com/articles/umegbolu-enugu-courthouse.cfm (accessed 11th November, 2021)

24 S. 4 Enugu State Multi-door Courthouse Law, 2018

25 Ibid Section 28(1)

26 Ibid Section 5(1)(a)

27 Ibid Section 5(2)

28 Ibid Section 5(3)

29 Ibid Section 5(4)

30 Section 28 (1) The Enugu State Multi-door Courthouse Law, 2018.

31 R.D Harriman J.(Ibid)

32 R.D Harriman J.(Ibid)

33 Available at http://resourcedat.com/resources/DIGESTOFSTATISTICS2011-01.pdf (accessed 07 September 2012) more particularly pages 243-249.

34 See a Report from the Office of the Chief Registrar of the FCT High Court, dated 1st September, 2021.

35 Data from file:///C:/Users/VP/Downloads/2019%20POVERY%20AND%20INEQUALITY%20IN%20NIGERIA.pdf (accessed on 9th November, 2021)

36 Data from https://worldpopulationreview.com/countries/nigeria-population (accessed on 9th November, 2021)

37 Data from https://www.macrotrends.net/countries/NGA/nigeria/literacy-rate (accessed on 9th November, 2021)

38 Data from the Lagos State Judiciary available at https://lagosjudiciary.gov.ng/aboutus.html#aboutsection (accessed on 9th November, 2021)

39 Data from https://worldpopulationreview.com/world-cities/lagos-population (accessed on 9th November, 2021)

40 Data from http://www.fcthighcourt.gov.ng/registry/honourable-judges/?wppa-occur=1&wppa-cover=0&wppa-album=4&wppa-photo=128

41 Data from http://www.fcthighcourt.gov.ng/registry/magistrates/

42 Data from https://worldpopulationreview.com/world-cities/abuja-population (accessed on 9th November, 2021)

43 See Prof. E. Onyema, The Multi-door Court House (MDC) Scheme in Nigeria: A Case Study of the Lagos MDC. https://eprints.soas.ac.uk/14521/1/Final_Report_on_LMDC_2012.pdf

44 See the Lagos State Multi-Door Courthouse Yearly Statistics for 2021 covering the period of 2002-2021.

45 No fewer than 920 cases have been filed in the Ogun Multi-Door Courthouse Court (OMDC) as at the end of February, 2021 out of which 523 cases have been resolved and settled since inception in 2017. Data from https://www.vanguardngr.com/2021/06/justice-dispensation-920-cases-filed-in-ogun-multi-door-courthouse-%E2%80%95-abiodun/ (accessed 11th November, 2021)

46 321 cases referred from various courts to the Enugu State Multidoor Courthouse (EMDC) and those brought by litigants in 2019; 212 cases were mediated upon with 174 cases successfully concluded and 49 were unsuccessful. Data from https://guardian.ng/features/law/multi-door-courthouse-lauds-successful-adr-in-enugu/ (accessed on 11 September, 2021)

47 Nwana V. F.C.D.A. (2007) 11 NWLR 59.

48 L.H Gummi (supra)

49 E. Onyema (supra)

50 See for example Section 88(3) of the Nigerian Communication Act, Cap. N97, LFN, 2004.

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