Senior lawyers and a judge of the Federal High Court, Justice Nnamdi Dimgba, Monday said the imposition of punitive cost for time wasting, use of electronic recording devices and effective use of case management powers by judges will enhance speedier justice delivery.
They spoke in Lagos during the second day of the 11th Annual Business Law conference of the Nigerian Bar Association Section on Business Law (NBA-SBL), with the theme: Law and changing face of legal practice.
He said fear of being accused of bias sometimes forces judges to grant frivolous applications for adjournments.
According to him, judges operate in a “difficult terrain” in which false reports are sometimes sponsored against them in the media by litigants whose prayers for adjournment were refused.
“Sometimes fear and intimidation impedes the exercise of their (judges’) case management powers. Some of my colleagues are afraid of petitions being written against them. It is true that some careers have damaged by such petitions, but I always ask them, is a petition going to kill you? As long as my conscience is clean, I do my job,” he said.
A Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Dr Babatunde Ajibade, called for imposition of full indemnity cost against those who file frivolous cases, as is done in other jurisdictions.
According to him, if people pay heavily for time wasting, they would be discouraged from deliberately delaying court actions, especially when they have bad cases.
“If people have a dispute and know it will never be settled in court, they can just send assassins to kill the other person. If we have an efficient judicial system, crime will reduce and people won’t take laws into their hands,” he said.
A United Kingdom based lawyer, Segun Osuntokun, wondered why Nigerian judges still record proceedings in long hand rather than with electronic devices.
“In UK courts, there is real time transcription of what is being said. Everyone sees it instantly. Here, everyone waits for the judge to write in long hand,” he said.
Osuntokun also faulted the practice whereby cases which had spent years in court begin all over (de novo) when the judges handling them are elevated to Court of Appeal.
“In England, when you are elevated, you finish your portfolio of cases before leaving. That way, you save at least two years of cases having to start afresh before a new judge,” he said.
Another SAN, Chief Chief Arthur Obi Okafor, said courts could schedule cases so that lawyers know when to be in court, rather than everyone being in court at the same time and some waiting all day for their turn.