In litigation, the era of front loading has reduced the problems confronted in Court by the Courts and litigants whereby hours will be spent on one case where a litigant or his Counsel will have to address the Courts verbally.
In the present litigation system, Rules of Courts both from the lower courts to the Higher Courts of Records now mandate that documents and or processes should be filed and all arguments intended to be made by litigants either by themselves or through their counsel should be made in written form and it has been the position of law that arguments or averments not frontloaded go to no issue and such shall then be discountenanced by the Court except where the Rules of the Courts permit or there is leave of the Court sought, may be to amend the defective process or to supply the additional information as the court may deem fit and is granted, hence, the omnibus relief contained on some of the courts’ processes.
While these processes are filed with great efforts and costs of litigants or their counsel, there are Courts’ staff given the duty to either keep the records or to serve some of the processes and then file them in the courts’ file as proof of service of those processes. In carrying out these responsibilities, some of those courts’ staff negligently mis-handle some of those processes leading to the loss of those processes, which is then detrimental to the suit of the concerned litigant. Most of the times, some of these negligent acts are discovered in the open court and the court has, with due respect, always put all the blames on counsel without necessarily blaming or disciplining the negligent staff, which makes such negligence to continue to re-occur in our courts’ system. This paper considers the situation to be one that requires urgent judicial intervention in order to forestall any re-occurrence these negligent acts.
It has remained the situation in many or some of our courts today at both trial and appellate judicial divisions to find some of the courts’ staff such as the courts’ registry and the bailiffs of the courts to be negligent with their duties to litigants and or the Counsel who are customers of the courts. The point that the writer of this paper is making is that some of these courts’ staff, most especially some of the bailiffs of the courts, are really handling their official duties carelessly and recklessly. For instance, the writer of this paper of recent filed an appeal at the Court of Appeal of Nigeria, Abuja Judicial Division, which is the Court of Appeal of Nigeria’s Headquarters. By a circular posted on some areas of the court, including the bailiff’s office/section, counsel or litigants are to ensure that they get proof of the services of their processes in their court’s file at least a week before the day slated or fixed for the appeal (though this is not the exact quotation, as the exact quotation was not available at the time of writing this paper).
The writer of this paper then visited the court two (2) weeks before the date fixed for the hearing of the appeal. However, there were unsettled issues in relation to the records between the records section and the court’s section-how could that even be! A staff in charge of the preparation of the cause list in the court’s section informed the writer of this paper that he should not worry and that he (the court’s officer in charge) would settle the issues and that there will not be any issue. He also asked the writer of this paper to leave and that he should call him (the court’s staff) the following week.
The writer of this paper informed him that he would travel to Abia State for an official function that week and that that was why he was very concerned about ensuring that all issues are settled before his leaving. Then, while still in Abia State, the writer of this paper called the said staff who disappointingly informed the writer of this paper that he could not find the appeal case’s file that was to come up for hearing the following week’s Tuesday. And that was on the Friday before the Tuesday when the appeal was to come up for hearing. The most surprising thing is that the record section actually traced the case on the record and found out that it was slated for a date (which will not be disclosed in this paper), which is an indication that that court’s staff might not have really worked on the case of the writer of this paper as promised.
There is another attitude of some staff who do some little or few works within their official capacity and then complain that they have done all the works in this world. Whereas, the only thing some of the staff know to do is to only use the port folio of their office to brag such as ‘I am a staff of the Court of Appeal of Nigeria!’ and then wait to receive salary at the end of the month. The writer of this paper had to return back to Abuja that Sunday following the Friday (two days after) so as to be in the Court to confirm the information of the court’s staff. When the writer of this paper returned to the court, the date was then confirmed.
The court’s bailiffs too did their own part of the negligence. Since the previous two weeks that the writer of this paper visited the court, he was assured that all the processes were safe and that he should not worry, even a day to the hearing date, this was still their assurances. However, on the day of the hearing, they disappointed the writer of this paper and made him to run around to ensure that his matter was not affected by the negligence of the court’s staff, because, the court’s bailiffs had to confess that they could not find the proofs of service of the Appellant’s Brief of Argument served on the Respondents and that of the motion on notice, which were served by two (2) bailiffs respectively. They had to then only depose to an affidavit that day when the matter was to come up for hearing. Also, the court’s copies of the Appellants’ processes were not found in the court’s file. The court’s staff then requested some other copies from the writer of this paper and asked him to also release an amount of money to run some photocopies to be used as replacement in the court’s file. In fact, according to another lawyer’s story that day, he was previously called by court’s staff that his matter would come up that day but only for him to discover that it was not even slated on the cause list!
Most unfortunately, some of these staff get away with their negligent conducts without any sanction rather, it is the litigants that have always been sanctioned by the court, with due respect, and all the blames are shifted on the litigants or their counsel. In fact, when some of these complaints are made in the open court or discovered in the open court, some of them stylishly run out of court in order to hide their misconducts. That is why the writer of this paper is calling on the courts to ensure that courts’ staff carry out their duties accordingly and not to hesitate to sanction the erred ones.
The request for whistle blowing on these negligent conducts by litigants and lawyers at every court will also be of great importance in curbing those negligent conducts.
Finally therefore, it is the belief of the writer of this paper that the appropriate court or each court will put in more measures in curbing negligence of these court’s staff in the interest of justice and that of the public. And it is believed that the courts or judges too will intervene in saving the situation from re-occurring.
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A Report Of The Judgement Of The 16 Divisions Of The Court Of Appeal In Nigeria