There is so much lawyers can do to assist in reducing dockets of courts. I daresay that it is not rocket science but a determination to be different, that is, ability to do away with the status quo where lawyers file cases, including court processes, in court indiscriminately in the bid to stall the progress of a case or forcefully call for litigation.
On a fateful day, I sat quitely in company of other counsel in the court patiently awaiting the arrival of the judge while some fraternize with the other. At exactly 9 0’clock, the female judge made her entrance into the Court when everyone rose up in obeisance. Though, it was beginning of a new year, the judge was obviously preoccupied with exhausting the business of the day which she begun in earnest….
After calling some cases and respective counsel discharged their duties, the court registrar started announcing cases where parties nor counsel appeared. Of course, this is not a new scenario in our court system.
“Abd, BCD and EFG.” The registrar called out but no response.
“DOK Ventures Limited.” Recounted further by the registrar still no response. In the process, the registrar nformed the court that “parties are absent”.
The judge called out “who appears“. Obviously addressing counsel at the bar but none stood up to announce appearance. As one abreast of the practice, it was her court, the judge said that “the suit stands adjourned till…. for further directions.
And so it went that the registrar called out more cases but no parties or counsel appeared and the cases suffered yet again another adjournment. I was already tired and once feared that my matter was listed in another court. The judge probably had enough caees which sadly may not strike out without proper advice.
This scenario is usually replicated in several courts and stakeholders- litigants, counsel and judges – are not strange to the archaic system of dispute resolution. Everyday, cases are filled at Nigerian courts and depending on the jurisdiction, more end up accumulating dust. It is no better at the appellate courts where we have several notices of appeal that parties refuse to pursue. It may appear that our Courts have turned into a dumping ground for “litigation-happy” counsel. It is no exaggeration that our Courts are unduly congested especially in this time when Nigerian justice system is still prepping to embrace technology.
Perhaps, it is not strange to receive clients seriously aggrieved and bearing hopes while threatening fire and brimstone as he narrates his pathetic story of how someone had wronged him. Many counsel can relate. I can! However, it is the counsel prerogative to advice in the best manner having litigation as the last resort. The Rules of Professional Conduct mandates every counsel to advice candidly and appropriately with litigation as the last resort. For most counsel, litigation probably comes first.
I mentioned earlier that clients are bear hopes anytime he walks into the office of a counsel where he believes solution resides. The counsel at first, debrief the client, analyze the scenario, determine relevant positions of law supporting or otherwise; and then advise his clients, candidly. No doubt some cases are litigation bound but where the case seems amenable to alternative dispute resolution, why not towtthat path? While the clients fumes, the counsel relaxes to grasp the nitty-gritty of the matter in a bid to profer quick and lawful solution.
However, where the counsel for sake of pecuniary gains advise litigation to a non controversial matter, he has contributed to court congestion. Often such cases counsel never pursueonce the client appears settled with his adversary. Such cases are perennially abandoned untill the judge strike out.
In my few years of experience, I can deduce whether a matter is suitable for litigation or not. Without prejudice to litigation counsel, I have worked with some that litigation is the top of the list of available mechanisms to resolve matters. Is it not laughable that some litigation counsel even shun meetings for amicable resolution or disrupt the meetings with unfound positions?
Another tool of litigation counsel is to strategically institute his client’s matter in court while pursuing out of court resolution. I applaud this being an effective machinery which put the party at wrong on his toes. Sadly, the parties and their counsel rarely return to inform the court of settling their dispute in a bid to close the case. This may be due to reasons i.e. non – perfection of counsel’s brief, etc.
I was part of a litigation team that settled a matter but the team lead obstinately perpetuated the case in court since the other party refused to offset his Professional fee which was among the claim on the writ of summons even when the Claimant, our client, had lost interest and refused to appear at court or inquire about the progress of the case. Couldn’t the counsel apply for joinder or institute fresh case if indeed he has a claim. This not a dig on litigation counsel. I am one!
It also seems death of litigants is another factor that contribute in case congestion in our Courts. Litigation counsel are very familiar with losing Litigants at times which stunts the progress of the matter at court. However, where this happens, the appropriate thing is for the counsel to inform the cut of the turn of events, apply for substitution of dead parties with living ones ready to continue the case where there is none, counsel should take the hint to apply to the court to strike out the matter. It seems honourable.
We need to be mindful that counsel are Ministers in the Temple of Justice, our first duty is to the Court, that is, to uphold the rule of law at all times including shunning frivolous and flimsy litigations which may cause undue embarrassment to the noble profession. The rule of professional conduct further admonish counsel not to instigate litigation. I respectfully submitted that time expended in flimsy litigations may be channeled to research by counsel, and the judge; pursing briefs that will enhance the welfare of the counsel and his family, etc.
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A Report Of The Judgement Of The 16 Divisions Of The Court Of Appeal In Nigeria