From left: Justice Opeyemi Oke, Justice Atilade and Mrs Funke Adekoya (SAN) at the event.

In celebration of a new legal year, various activities are usually lined up by the judiciary for stakeholders in the sector. These activities, apart from the social value, also give a glimpse of what to expect in the coming days. ROBERT EGBE writes.

It’s official. The long vacation is over and the 2015/16 Legal Year is in session. Courts around the country – whether federal or state – are back in business. In most states, it is customary to kick-off the year with social and religious events, and this year was no exception.

In Lagos, the start of the new session was marked with several activities, including a Legal Year Dinner, organised by the Lagos State Judiciary at the Nigeria Law School, Lagos Campus.

The dinner was the culmination of a four-day event, which began with simultaneous prayer sessions at the Cathedral Church of Christ, Marina and Lagos Central Mosque, Nnamdi Azikwe, Lagos, a novelty football match between the Bar and the Bench at the Onikan Stadium, and an interactive Bar and Bench Forum at the High Court Foyer, Igbosere, Lagos

The religious services were particularly notable because – for the first time in the state’s history – they witnessed the physical attendance of Governor Akinwunmi Ambode of Lagos State at the church and his deputy, Dr. Oluranti Adebule at the mosque. The governor used the opportunity to restate his administration’s commitment to the growth of the judiciary.

“I didn’t know that this is the first time a governor will be attending the service of new legal year in Lagos State,” Governor Ambode said, “I just felt it was dutiful for me to be here.”

He continued: “This is a new beginning. I just want to reiterate my commitment to partnering with the judiciary, this is because the judiciary remains the most veritable instrument for the attainment of growth and economic development in the state.”

On the social front last Wednesday, the Bench proved its superiority over the Bar, with a select judges and magistrates’ side recording a 6-1 victory over a team of lawyers during a novelty match played at the Onikan Stadium.

At the Bar and Bench Forum, the no-holds-barred discussion between lawyers and judges, led to the disclosure by the Chief Judge (CJ) of Lagos State, Justice Olufunmilayo Atilade, of the introduction of the Bail Information Management System (BIMS), to capture the biometrics and full documentation of defendants and their sureties in the state’s judicial system.

Justice Atilade explained that BIMS is designed to address some of the unique challenges bedeviling the criminal justice system and also see to the reduction of abuses by those she termed unscrupulous lawyers and professional sureties.

She said: “The trials of suspects are usually delayed due to their non-production in court by prison authorities who sometimes cannot even identify their specific places of remand.

“The BIMS will be deployed in the 22 magisterial districts and the Lagos and Ikeja Divisions of the Lagos State High Court.

“The information will be linked to a centralised data base accessible to everybody and give judges and magistrates confidence to grant bail to suspects.

“It will help to address the issue of awaiting trial inmates because suspects can easily be tracked from the system.”

While promising that the judiciary under her watch would see to the improvement of the Administration of Criminal Justice Law in the state, Justice Atilade maintained that the state judiciary would remain a model in Nigeria and indeed Africa.

The CJ said: “The Lagos State judiciary will continue to perform its responsibilities and also provide modern infrastructure that will help in the quick dispensation of justice.

“We must be steadfast and honest while discharging our duties as officers in the Temple of Justice. We will ensure justice in all cases and at all times.”

Justice Atilade also called on the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), to cooperate with the state judiciary so as to aid speedy dispensation of justice in the state.

Governor Ambode emphasised the judiciary’s importance to his administration by attending Friday’s Legal Year Dinner dinner, which opened the 2015/16 Legal Year in the state.

It was also another opportunity for the Chief Justice to make one important request of the governor: the return of Judiciary Capital Vote. Justice Atilade was concerned that the Lagos State Judiciary was still financially dependent on the Ministry of Justice and appealed to Governor Ambode to assist in effecting the return of Judiciary Capital Vote as required by Law and in the spirit of separation of powers.

The CJ, however, admitted the governor’s interest in the welfare of the judiciary and restated her confidence in him.

She said: “To a very large extent, as we demonstrate our implicit confidence in our able governor to right the wrongs of the past, help reposition and propel the State Judiciary to desired heights, we must sincerely express our gratitude to His Excellency for all the support and kind understanding.

“Truly, he has within the short period of his administration demonstrated strong interest and concern in the growth of the Judiciary and in the welfare of judicial officers, magistrates and all personnel the of the Lagos State Judiciary,” she added.

In his response Governor Ambode promised that his administration will continue to improve on the achievements in the judicial sector and ensure that judges, magistrates and the courts in the state work in a conducive atmosphere.

He said: “We will work with the judiciary to move our justice sector to a higher level. The reform process is not a finished business, it is a work in progress.”

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