Lagos CJ Tackles Delay In Criminal Justice Administration

Lagos CJ Tackles Delay In Criminal Justice Administration

In a bid to make the processes of e-filing of court processes easy for lawyers in Lagos State, the Chief Judge of Lagos State, Justice Kazeem Alogba, has announced September 1, 2022 as the take-off date of the new e-filing system that will remove the need for physical presence at the court registry.

Justice Alogba made the disclosure on July 28 when lawyers from different branches of the Nigerian Bar Association in the state met at his office to discuss issues relating to the administration of justice in the state.

In spite of the introduction of the electronic filing system in Lagos courts, the filing procedure of cases is still cumbersome and slow in Nigeria. Some lawyers have complained that instead of speeding up the processes, the e-filing procedure has brought frustrations in filing cases and getting the cases assigned to the courts.

It would be recalled that the e-filing system, known as the Judicial Information System, was first introduced by Lagos’ former Chief Judge, Justice Ayotunde Phillips, on September 24, 2013. The introduction of JIS was lauded by lawyers and other stakeholders as the first of its kind in the country. It introduced innovations such as easy management of cases for counsel, who could file cases from the comfort of their law chambers, online payment of necessary fees through a secure web portal and tracking of cases online.

Justice Philips’ successors, Justices Olufunmilayo Atilade, Opeyemi Oke and the incumbent, Alogba, all subscribed to this project. However, almost nine years after, lawyers and litigants are still groaning under the cumbersome and slow pace of filing cases.

Some have identified inadequate computers and poor and inefficient internet network services as factors, which not only delay filing but also frustrate the effort of lawyers to meet their set targets. Electronic methods would depend on a good internet network to function effectively and where the service providers cannot guarantee the same, then, that becomes a major setback.

Other factors that have been identified to be militating against e-filing in the country include epileptic power supply, which has affected and still affects almost all facets of endeavours; inadequate and lack of IT skills among court workers including judges, lawyers and courts staff.

There are also the challenges posed by viruses and hackers, who could invade the court’s online sites, with the intention to destroy vital information stored on the site.

Also, relevant laws and rules of courts in Nigeria are not fashioned in a way to provide for electronic systems. Those rules would have to be amended to accommodate virtual operations. Also, poor or inadequate funding of the judiciary adds to the setback. It is expected that judicial fiscal autonomy would guarantee adequate funding to embark on automation.

In recent times, there have been protests from lawyers and litigants concerning the slow and frustrating process of filing papers in the registry of the court due to the ineffectiveness of the JIS. The lawyers, who met with Justice Alogba on July 28, had expressed their grievances on the slow pace of the administration of justice and how time is wasted while trying to file documents for litigation.

The lawyers were led by Bar leaders and senior lawyers; it was also attended by the Attorney-General of Lagos State, Mr Moyosore Onigbanjo, SAN; Dr Babatunde Ajibade, SAN; Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, SAN; Dr Monday Ubani; Mr Yinka Farounbi; Ms Patience Patrick-Udoh and chairmen of all NBA branches in Lagos State.

While welcoming the Bar leaders, the Chief Registrar of the High Court, Magistrate Tajudeen Elias, said that the meeting was part of the existing statutory meetings between the Bar and the Bench.

The leader of the NBA team, Dr Ajibade, presented the case of the NBA, pointing out that the human interface in the JIS system of e-filing is frustrating the process of access to Justice.

Citing Rivers State, where the e-filing system has been working effectively, he said, “It takes an average of one or two months for a permanent suit number to be assigned to a new case, even with an affidavit of urgency.

“There must be the political will to support the system with functional infrastructure for optimal performance, given the position that Lagos State occupies in the judiciary in Nigeria.”

On his part, Adegboruwa gave a harrowing experience he had recently while trying to file a suit at the e-filing section of the Lagos Division of the Court, saying that he filed on July 2, 2022 but only got the permanent suit number last week.

Adegboruwa said he was at the Court Registry on Tuesday, July 26, 2022 to continue the process of filing a fundamental rigged application with an affidavit of urgency that was commenced the previous day, July 25, 2022, but he could not complete the filing until late in the afternoon by which time the vacation judge had risen for the day.

He said “litigants and litigation clerks had to leave their homes very early in the morning in order to pick a number to stay on a queue, for a process that will not commence until 9am when the generator powering the building is activated and it will be off by 2pm when all activities will be shut down.

“The environment of the e-filing system is too choking, dangerously crowded and generally unsuitable, the location being at the basement of the building where internet connection is either very poor or unavailable at all.

“The system shuts itself down most times, there are only three archaic computers with obsolete scanners and they are not effective to serve the number of people queuing up to file processes.”

A Lagos-based lawyer, Mr Ige Asemudara, who described the e-filing process as a terrible experience and time-consuming, said whenever his litigation clerk goes to court to file processes, he spends two days before he is able to file them.

Asemudara said, “Unfortunately, the experience we have with e-filing is not too good, if you get to any of the registries in either Lagos or Ikeja division, you will see long queues there. Filing that should have taken 30 to minutes will take 24 hours to file for some people.”

Another lawyer, Dr Yemi Omodele, said the e-filing in Lagos state is a disappointment as they have to queue for up to six hours just to file a process.

He said, “e-filing in other states is very fast; within 30 minutes you are done filing but in Lagos, they will tell you there is no power supply and the system is down when it eventually gets to your turn after queuing for six hours.”

The CJ, in its reply, said that he had heard of these complaints but no one had given him specifics of how cases are being delayed to enable him deal with the situation decisively. He noted that the Governor of Lagos State, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, is very much concerned about the judiciary and he takes issues relating to the administration of justice as a top priority. He assured the Bar that efforts are ongoing to improve the e-filing system.

The CJ, however, directed those concerned to note all the observations for immediate action, while pointing out that there is a consultant engaged for the e-filing processes.

He said, “That part of the challenge being faced by the judiciary in Lagos State was due to the #EndSARS experience which led to the destruction of the JIC Taylor iconic building and monument.

“The new building may be ready for use by December 2022. A new Commercial Division is being constructed at the former Tapa Street Magistrates’ Court premises to accommodate about 10 modern courtrooms.”

He appealed to the Bar for understanding, given the peculiar challenges.

Also, the Attorney-General of Lagos State, Mr Moyosore Onigbanjo, SAN, stated that it is necessary to fast-track the process of access to justice and he assured that the judiciary would do its best to ensure that the filing system is self-operative to remove human interface.

He said, “A timeline should be worked out before the end of the current annual vacation of the court, to implement a completely self-operated e-filing system.”

At the end of the deliberations, it was decided that the processes of e-filing will be thoroughly overhauled to remove the need for human interface in order to reduce or minimise physical presence in the filing process.

It was also resolved that a joint task force between the Bar and the judiciary will be set up to monitor the smooth execution of all issues agreed upon at the meeting.

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