Presiding over Nigeria’s most innovative, progressive and reform oriented judiciary is no easy task. Doing it with candour and retiring with accolades is very impressive.
The immediate past Chief Judge, Lagos State, Hon. Justice Ayotunde Phillips reminisced about her time in active service on the Bench, shared her thoughts on judicial corruption and what reforms need to be carried out urgently to ensure the Judiciary gets back to its pride of place in the society. She expressed her views on these and many other issues in this discourse with May Agbamuche-Mbu, Jude Igbanoi and Tobi Soniyi.
Lagos state Judiciary is rated as the most innovative in the country, in your opinion what are the foremost achievements of the Lagos State Judiciary?
It is now a matter of common knowledge that Lagos State is the commercial nerve centre of this country apart from being the Centre of Excellence. It is Nigeria’s melting pot and the most representative of the different tribes in the country. It is what London is to the United Kingdom and New York is to the United States of America. With a population in excess of 20 Million and the daily influx of fresh settlers in search of a better life there is undoubtedly the need for creativity and innovation dealing with the daily challenges faced by the State. In effect, Lagos State Judiciary emerging as the most innovative is a product of expediency or necessity for to be otherwise is to grind the machineries of justice to a halt. We cannot use yesterday’s answers to address the challenges of today or tomorrow. The impressive changes which the Lagos State Judiciary has brought about include the total overhaul of the High Court Civil Procedure Rules in 2004 which introduced a number of bold and far reaching initiatives into the administration of justice like the front loading of processes, the introduction of Fast Track Courts to expedite the resolution of commercial disputes. The establishment of The Lagos Multi Door Courthouse in collaboration with the NCMG International, the organisation that conceptualised and brought the project to fruition in Lagos State and other Judiciaries in Nigeria in 2002 and more recently the introduction of Bail Information System (BIMS) –To curtail the abuse of the bail system by unscrupulous professional sureties and of course the introduction of Judicial Information System (JIS) which allows for the online filing and assignment of cases. There have also been other initiatives like the recent inauguration of 5 mobile courts to prosecute traffic offenders by the Lagos State Government in conjunction with the Lagos State Judiciary.
You have had a long reputable career at the Bench, serving for 20 venerable years in the Superior Courts of Nigeria, and rising to the esteemed position of Chief Judge. Your experience places you in a unique position to comment on the state of the Nigerian Judiciary today. What is your assessment of the performance of the Judiciary since the advent of Democratic Government in 1999?
The mood of the Nigerian society at the end of the military dictatorship was understandably ecstatic. This enthusiasm was based on the premise that democracy offers opportunities, liberty and freedom unimaginable in a dictatorship. Citizens hoped that democracy would readily translate into respect for rights and liberty protected by the 1999 Constitution. They hoped they would be able to seek justice unburdened by the restraints and limitations imposed by military dictators. The right to a fair trial is perhaps the most fundamental tenet of constitutional democracy and has been recognised as a universal human right. It is central to a nation’s search for social equilibrium and justice because all of the rights guaranteed by a Constitution mean nothing if citizens do not have the right to a fair trial. Without securing the right to a fair trial, citizens might resort to extra legal means to secure their interests and protect their rights. Moreover, economic growth and social development will be impeded if foreign and local investors lack confidence in the ability of the legal process to fairly and impartially resolve disputes speedily.
The Nigerian Constitution 1999 (as altered and amended) and other laws contain substantive and procedural safeguards designed to assure a fair trial. These safeguards cover all stages of judicial proceedings, from Pre-Trial Conferences through to appeals. Some of the Pre-Trial safeguards include prohibitions against arbitrary arrest, the right to be brought before a Judge within a reasonable time and a prohibition against ex post facto laws.
The safeguards applicable during trials include the presumption of innocence, the right to confront and cross-examine witnesses, proof of guilt beyond reasonable doubt, protection against self-incrimination, the right to counsel, the right to a public trial before an impartial and independent court and the suppression of illegally obtained evidence. Post-trial safeguards grant an aggrieved party the right of appeal to a higher court and protection against double jeopardy. Despite these lofty safeguards, the path to justice is strewn with social, cultural and institutional problems that make it exceedingly difficult, if not impossible, for citizens to realise the ideals of a fair trial. In Nigeria, the troubling legacies of military rule, especially corruption, executive control and manipulation of the Judiciary continue to undermine the ability of courts to effectively secure fair trial rights. These legacies create three major obstacles to a fair trial in Nigeria; the menace of justice, corruption and continued dependence of the system on Government for funding.
Eradicating corruption completely may be a Herculean task but could be achieved if a legal system that adheres to high standards of independence, impartiality, integrity and accountability is put in place. It is the duty of the Judiciary to direct society to the attainment of truth and justice but that path to justice and truth is strewn with the hydra-headed problems of corruption and the interference by the Government of the day in the judicial system of the country which continue to impugn the reputation of the Judiciary and the ability of the courts to effectively secure truth and justice. The fact that it has not been truly independent of the executive arm of Government has also not helped matters at all whereas the Legislature is.
The attitude of Politicians who pay lip service to the independence of the Judiciary so that it cannot play its constitutional role effectively is another obstacle to the attainment of truth and justice in Nigeria. Section 17(2) (e) of the 1999 Constitution provides that the independence, impartiality and integrity of the courts of law and easy accessibility thereto shall be secured and maintained while section 121(3) provides that—
“Any amount standing to the credit of the Judiciary in the consolidated revenue fund of the State shall be paid directly to the heads of courts concerned.”
Recently these provisions received judicial pronouncement from the Federal High Court, yet the State Governors are yet to obey the orders of court, which are still valid and subsisting, as they have not been set aside by any appeal Court to date. This has resulted in a nationwide strike action in the Judiciary which is very worrisome indeed.
Nigeria’s Judiciary has not attained the independence required to enable it achieve justice and truth without inhibitions. It is still seen as an appendage to or tied to the apron strings of the Executive. The manner of appointment of Judges and Magistrates as well as the absence of financial autonomy in the true sense of it have raised the recurring question as to whether the independence of the Judiciary is a myth or reality, and whether the constitutional provisions which guarantee the independence of the Judiciary are no more than slogans in Nigeria. These problems have made it difficult, if not almost impossible, for citizens to realise the constitutional guarantee of justice, which the Judiciary ought to protect.
With the reverent nature of the Judiciary, the fact that sitting Judges cannot openly comment on the nature of their work or direct attention to the problems that besiege the Judiciary, from your many years serving on the Bench, what are the 5 major obstacles of the Judiciary in the dispensation of Justice in Nigeria?
Corruption which is in all facets of our society and in our daily lives is a major obstacle to the attainment of justice and truth in any given legal system. As hydra-headed as the corruption malaise may be, with an independent and incorruptible Judiciary, justice and truth can still be achieved. In the Nigerian legal system, the menace of corruption has engulfed our governance to a large extent. The legal system of this nation can be propelled to ultimately achieve justice and truth when things that can make the system function optimally are put in place. Sustained judicial reforms as is on-going presently in Ghana and the weeding of corrupt Judges and magistrates from the courts will pave the way to the attainment of justice and truth.
Our legal system can be a veritable tool for human and societal development. This can only be made possible when we take a leap to promote truth, justice and change institutional behaviour. In effect, the major obstacles of the judiciary in the dispensation of justice to my mind are: Corruption, absence of judicial independence, quality of judicial appointments, lack of efficiency and effectiveness of judicial infrastructure and delay in the dispensation of justice.
Regarding the reform of the Judiciary Vice President Osinbajo has said “There is no question at all that we need to reform… No one is in doubt that a nation can do little if the Judiciary is not functioning. Our legal system has not been reformed at the national and state levels but more importantly at the national level.” With the nationwide acknowledgement that the Judiciary needs to be reformed, what do you believe a successful reform of the Judiciary will involve?
There is hardly any doubt that the administration of justice in Nigeria craves for serious reform in order to cope with the challenges dictated by 21st Century changes and developments; the advent of the internet, the mobile phone, increase in terrorist acts, blue collar crimes and other crimes hitherto unimagined like the senseless and brutal kidnapping and or killing of fellow human beings have now placed a very heavy burden on the judicial system. The judicial system, which is the last hope of the common man, is groaning under the weight of a heavy caseload and myriads of internal problems. The criminal justice system has endured prolonged delay in the administration of justice, congestion of courts, grossly inadequate infrastructure and lack of access to justice by the poor, a majority of who cannot afford the services of lawyers, the congestion of prisons caused by the daily influx of convicted persons or suspects awaiting trial, the persistent issue of the holding charge, arrest of suspects’ relatives in place of suspects, the use of torture by the Police to extort extra judicial confessions and the often unfounded allegations of corruption against Judicial Officers. In addition, many of our laws are outdated and in dire need of being drafted to be in tune with modern trends. Some of them are nothing but mere relics of our colonial past that ought to have been repealed a long time ago.
Efficient and speedy justice delivery is central to the nation’s economic growth and development, and the socio-economic wellbeing of its citizens. It is not an overstatement to say that our budding democracy depends heavily on the just resolution of our individual and collective differences through an efficient and robust judicial system. The incontrovertible assumption behind legal and judicial reform is that it concerns all classes of citizens, the rich and the poor, the high and low alike; all and sundry must be guaranteed access to a court system for settlement of disputes quickly and fairly and above all nobody should be above the law as the law is no respecter of persons.
The law is the mechanism for reducing the level of grievances in a society. Unless there is confidence in the system itself, both in its rules and the officials that apply them, anxiety and bitterness will ensue. Justice in any society must assure the weak of the possibility of winning against the strong, even against the state itself.
Judicial reform requires both cultural and systematic change in the delivery of justice. Such a program should include repealing/amendment of antiquated laws, enactment of modern laws to meet the needs of ever changing socio-economic conditions, court modernisation and restructuring, the introduction of an automated court system that allows for video conferencing etc, legal reforms and alternative dispute resolution mechanisms, training and retraining of Judges, court personnel, and Lawyers, students and civil society and of course improved access to justice.
The starting point for these programmes should be a clear plan that focuses on activities that have a high probability of success and that provide immediate benefits.
The success of an effective justice system is measured not only by the number of cases that it manages to dispose of periodically, but also and more specifically by the amount of litigation which is avoided because the rights and obligations of parties are ascertainable in advance. Where the justice system is reasonably effective and coherent, parties are able to ascertain the extent of their rights and obligations without systematic reference to the courts. In the context of judicial reform programs, the measures, which need to be taken to reduce the duration of the litigation process, are those relating to avoidable sources of delay, which tend to slow down and even halt proceedings unnecessarily.
Although justice is most of the time, a matter of finding the appropriate rules for settling disputes, resolving grievances and trying the accused persons with basic fairness, no justice system can be worthy of that name unless it provides for Judges and other officers of the Court who are independent of the state which appoints them and operate without any pressure to decide cases in favour of Government.
In addition, certain offences like corruption, terrorism, rape, kidnapping, election fraud, etc., should be designated as serious crimes and should attract severe punishment without an option of fine. Desperate times call for desperate solutions. There should also be a time limit of a no more than a twelve-month period for the trial of any criminal action to ensure a speedy dispensation of justice. In cases where the accused does not have counsel when a matter is called, the State should immediately appoint a counsel to represent him/her before the adjourned date. It is further suggested that various tactics employed by parties and their Counsel to delay judicial proceedings and undermine the justice system should be sternly deprecated. Judges and Magistrates alike will now have to be proactive as it is time that we in the Judiciary began to think outside the box.
In the final analysis, no combat against crime, corruption and other social vices plaguing this country can ever be credible or complete unless there is in place an independent, effective, and robust judicial system to rely on. A properly administered judicial system capable of guaranteeing individual rights and freedom, protecting victims from the arbitrary exercise of power, and punishing criminal offenders no matter their position in society is an essential catalyst for good governance and the uplifting of the socio-economic wellbeing of Nigeria and her citizens.
It is well known that the US Supreme Court has a remarkable 9 Justices of the Supreme Court. In fact the US is currently occupied with deciding who ought to take the place of one of those Justices- Antonin Scalia who passed away on the 13th of February. Iconically these Justices (or more accurately eight Associate Justices and one Chief Justice) are categorised for having either conservative, moderate of liberal philosophies of law, also taken into account is the representation of gender and ethnicity in the national population when Supreme Court appointees are considered. Of course Nigeria is markedly different culturally and in terms of ethnic diversity but is there any value in such considerations for our own Supreme Court?
The Supreme Court of the United States is the highest judicial body in the United States. Its membership consists of the Chief Justice of the United States and eight associate justices. The justices are nominated by the President of the United States and appointed after confirmation by the United States’ Senate. Justices of the Supreme Court have life tenure.
While the Justices do not represent or receive official endorsements from political parties, as is accepted practice in the Legislative and Executive branches, jurists are informally categorised in legal and political circles as being judicial conservatives, moderates, or liberals. Such leanings, however, generally refer to legal outlook rather than a political one.
Following the death of Antonin Scalia in February 2016, the U. S. Supreme Court consists of four justices appointed by Republican Presidents and four appointed by Democratic Presidents. It is popularly accepted that Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Thomas and Alito (appointed by Republican presidents) comprise the Court’s conservative wing. Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan (appointed by Democratic Presidents) comprise the Court’s liberal wing. Justice Kennedy (appointed by President Reagan) is generally considered a conservative who has occasionally voted with liberals and up until Justice Scalia’s death, was often the swing vote that determined the outcome of cases divided between the conservative and liberal wings.
Tom Goldstein argued in a 2010 article that the popular view of the Supreme Court is sharply divided along ideological lines with each side pushing an agenda at every turn is “in significant part a caricature designed to fit certain preconceptions.” He pointed out that in the 2009 term, almost half the cases were decided unanimously, and only about 20% were decided by a 5-to-4 vote. Barely one in ten cases involved the narrow liberal/conservative divide (fewer if the cases where Sotomayor recused herself are not included). He also pointed to several cases that defied the popular conception of the ideological lines of the Court. Goldstein further argued that the large number of pro-criminal-defendant summary dismissals (usually cases where the justices decide that the lower courts significantly misapplied precedent and reverse the case without briefing or argument) were an illustration that the conservative Justices had not been aggressively ideological. Likewise, Goldstein stated that the critique that the liberal Justices are more likely to invalidate acts of Congress, show inadequate deference to the political process, and be disrespectful of precedent, also lacked merit: Thomas has most often called for overruling prior precedent (even if long standing) that he views as having been wrongly decided, and during the 2009 term Scalia and Thomas voted most often to invalidate legislation.
In summary, US Supreme Court Justices have generally demonstrated judicial independence in their opinions and orientation. Remember that without the vote of Chief Justice Roberts (who was appointed by Republican President George W. Bush), there will be no Obamacare. President Obama has recently nominated a replacement for Justice Scalia and we will see how that pans out I am sure very soon. The Supreme Court of the United States has been around a lot longer than its Nigerian counterpart. This longevity has afforded it the luxury of undergoing a renaissance which has enabled it weather the storm while remaining focused on increasing transparency, enhancing access to justice and increasing public confidence. That said, there is the urgent need to effect the necessary amendments with regards to appeals in Nigeria for the present situation where over a thousand cases are heard by the Nigerian Supreme Court in a year is not only sad, it is pathetic, backward, unrealistic and unnecessary. Regrettably, to effect the change required to bring about anything similar to what pertains in the United States would require some far reaching constitutional amendments. Having said that the leadership, which the present Chief Justice of Nigeria has demonstrated in the justice sector reform so far is most commendable, and the intended introduction of the Supreme Court Mediation Centre as a start is a wonderful breath of fresh air as it shows that indeed the Judiciary is now beginning to think outside the box and I am very pleased about this development. I hope the other Appellate Courts will also follow suit.
Part of the reason the US Supreme Court is able to maintain just nine Justices and successfully operate as the apex Court of a nation with over 318 million people is that Litigants do not share the generous right of appeal they do in Nigeria. Matters that rise to the Supreme Court in the US are matters pertaining to Federal Law, or are of national or constitutional significance. The Supreme Court Justices choose 80 cases they will hear every year, and another 50 they adjudicate on without hearing arguments. By comparison our Supreme Court heard 1500 cases in 2014-2015 legal year and another 300 appeals. Do we need to limit the right of appeal to the Supreme Court?
I believe I have already addressed this issue while answering the 4th question. I will state further however that this is most unnecessary and calls for urgent attention by the legislature and the judicial community as a whole. I am of the view that it is time that the whole hierarchy of the Court system in this country should be evaluated and reformed to allow for the establishment of Courts of Appeal at the State level, as it should be in a true Federal System. Not only the Supreme Court but also the Court of Appeal is seriously overburdened with a humongous caseload in some regions which needs to be addressed with despatch.
I believe that the right of appeal to the Supreme Court should be limited a great deal and the lower courts be given the power to decide which matters should proceed on appeal like it pertains in the United Kingdom.
There have been several calls for judicial reforms including safeguarding the financial autonomy of the Judiciary. Could you suggest practical ways to secure the financial autonomy of the Judiciary?
The need to uphold the financial autonomy of the Judiciary cannot be overemphasised. The involvement of both the Federal and State Governments in the disbursement of funds to the Judiciary clearly indicates the extent to which the independence of the Judiciary has been violated. I even read in the newspapers recently that the Budget for the Judiciary has been cut extensively by the Legislature, which should not be the case at all, in fact it is insulting. This actually plays out more at the State level where Governors in regard to the Capital Expenditure of the Judiciary ignore the above Constitutional provisions.
Mr. Olisa Agbakoba, SAN, former President of Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) on February 1, 2013 took the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF), the National Judicial Council (NJC) and the National Assembly to court stating that the manner by which the budget of the Judiciary was being appropriated was contrary to the principle of separation of powers and the provisions of section 81 (2) and Section 84 (1), (2), (3), (4), and7 of the 1999 Constitution. He also prayed the Court that—
“The continued dependence of the Judiciary on the Executive represented by the 1st Defendant for its budgeting and funds release is directly responsible for the present state of underfunding of the Judiciary”.
In its Judgment the Court declared unconstitutional the practice of sending the annual budget estimates of the Judiciary to the Budget Office of the Executive arm of Government or any other authority. The Court also ordered that henceforth the National Judicial Council (NJC) should prepare the budget of the Judiciary and it should no longer be part of the estimates to be included in the Appropriation Bill as proposed expenditures by the President, as is the present practice.
The court also identified other effects of the dependency of the Judiciary on the Executive as “poor and inadequate judicial infrastructure, low morale among judicial personnel, alleged corruption in the Judiciary, delays in the administration of justice and judicial services delivery and general low quality and poor out-put by the Judiciary.”
This Judgment has charted the new path the Judiciary in Nigeria is expected to follow. The onus now lies upon the Executive and the Legislative arms of Government to respect the Court’s Order and hands off the funds of the Judiciary. This is however yet to happen in spite of the fact that this Judgment is yet to be appealed against.
The court has therefore upheld the constitutionality of the financial autonomy of the Judiciary and the only feasible and practical way of securing the financial autonomy of the Judiciary is for the Executive and Legislative arms of Government to obey the letter of the law and operate within the realm of the Constitution, which they have sworn under oath to uphold. Once this is done it is now up to the Judiciary to put measures in place to accommodate the new system by employing proper and qualified support staff to handle its proper role. This is necessary to ensure the proper management of Government funds and avoid any embarrassment or allegations of mis-management or mis-appropriation.
Prison congestion and the treatment of awaiting trial inmates are a major indictment to our criminal justice system. During your tenure as Chief Judge you introduced several reforms including a system for bondsmen and recovery of recognisance system. What further steps can you suggest for the improvement of the criminal justice delivery system in Lagos state?
The most pervasive myth distorting our view of criminal justice is that increasing arrests and imprisonment is an effective strategy for reducing crime. Our present methods of dealing with criminals have not made society safer and crime-free, rather they have made the problems worse. There is a lot we can do to reverse this trend including:
a) Paying attention to and speaking out about injustice whenever it is seen: The criminal justice system is desperately in need of reform. But reform will only occur when people speak with unified conviction about a more just and equitable system that focuses more on public safety. When people in large numbers speak out for justice, policymakers will have no choice but to respond.
b) Compensation to the exonerated: I cannot imagine anything worse than a person being wrongly convicted for a crime they did not commit. When the criminal justice system makes a grievous mistake by sending an innocent person to prison, the state has a moral and ethical responsibility to make amends by providing adequate financial support, counselling, educational and job training, and housing.
c) Hold prosecutors and the Police responsible for deliberate misconduct: Police and Prosecutors who deliberately engage in misconduct are rarely held liable for their actions. I am talking about serious misconduct that lands innocent people in jail, such as hiding or destroying evidence that could clear the accused of charges, or fabricating evidence to make a Defendant appear guilty, or relying on testimony that is known to be false, or obtaining and then using coerced confessions. These need to change and fast. A policy of liability for deliberate misconduct could make those state actors think twice before they play fast and loose with people’s lives.
d) Champion the passage of laws that reduce overly harsh sentences: People are serving heavy sentences for non-violent offenses or for certain felonies under habitual offender laws. These sentences are unnecessary and are overly punitive. They often fall on the backs of the poor.
e) Develop alternatives to arrest and incarceration programs: Too many people who should not be there wind up in the criminal justice system. Some people are arrested who should not be and once an arrest is made, a cycle of incarceration begins that is often tilted against the poor.
f) Support and develop initiatives that offer alternatives to the justice system, such as after school programs, mental health centres, and drug treatment options, probation etc. These programs require funding and are costly in the short term. But a healthier community is better -and safer in the long run.
g) Reduce violence in prisons by improving prison accountability and leadership: People are sent to prison because they were convicted of a crime. Their punishment is the prison sentence itself. However, thousands of prisoners including those who are incarcerated for nonviolent crimes become the victims of sexual assault and other violent attacks while serving prison sentences. When their sentence is over, they return to society more damaged, traumatised and maladjusted than when they entered in the first place. If you want to reduce high rates of recidivism, then make prisons safer and hold administrators accountable for the devastating violence that occurs under their watch.
h) Removal of the building of Prisons from the Exclusive Legislative list and its inclusion in the Concurrent List to allow State Governments who can afford it to build Prisons. There are not enough Prisons in this Country to accommodate offenders here not to talk about those serving terms of imprisonment abroad who are awaiting repatriation to Nigeria to serve out the balance of their respective terms of imprisonment.
Recently, Buhari has described Judges as his “main headache” in the fight against corruption. Could you enlighten us on the ways the Judiciary can facilitate the current’s administration fight against corruption?
There is no doubt that corruption is the biggest and most embarrassing challenge facing Nigeria today. It is indeed a serious threat to our economic and democratic development. The Judiciary is central to democracy. As the third arm of Government, it acts as a check on the Executive and the Legislature. But due to the fact that it is not being allowed to play its proper role as envisaged in the Constitution of our land the Judiciary is not living up to public expectation. Its integrity is being questioned and we are just being made the whipping boy. Give a dog a bad name and hang it. I agree that some of us have been found wanting of late but this notwithstanding Corruption is an insidious plague that leads to the subversion of justice. For this reason I am of the view that the Judiciary should be left alone to purge itself of unworthy Officers and should not be exposed to the outside interference of organs created by the Executive arm of Government. Already the Judiciary has shown that it is capable of doing this on its own without any outside interference thereby enhancing integrity and accountability. The Judiciary must be ruthless in dealing with corruption within it, as that is the only way it can develop the moral courage to deal with graft in the society. In order for the Judiciary to help facilitate and support the current administration’s fight against corruption, it has to change itself. Change is possible with fundamental reforms, which must begin from within.
I will recommend the following constructive engagements on the part of the Judiciary in facilitating the fight against corruption: –
i) Independence: For the Judiciary to play its role in the fight against corruption it must be independent and free from any form of interference or influence in terms of funding, political manipulation etc. This will enable Judges to determine cases freely and competently on the basis of facts presented before them and nothing more.
ii) The Courts must ensure that cases bordering on corruption are dealt with expeditiously to instil public confidence in the fight against corruption. To this end, the court must ensure that recourse to unnecessary technicalities are avoided or rejected out rightly.
iii) Incorruptibility of the Bench: A corrupt bench can only worsen the fight against corruption. For the Judiciary to position itself properly against the fight against corruption, it must first purge itself of corruption. It will be a very sad day indeed for the court, which is seen as the bastion of hope of the common man to stand as an “accused” in the fight against corruption. This indeed will signify the end of everything. The Judiciary should therefore continue to display zero tolerance for any form of corruption within its ranks.
iv) The prosecuting agencies must provide proper training for prosecutors of corruption cases.
v) The courts must be properly equipped with modern facilities to be able to fast-track the determination of corruption and other related cases and indeed understand the modus operandi of persons accused of cases of corruption. The Magistrates, Judges and staff must also be properly and adequately remunerated to avoid any form of temptation and be better motivated to do that which is right and proper in all cases that come before them. They should also be trained and re-trained to be disciplined and committed to duty.
The mobile courts for traffic offenders inaugurated this year to summarily try traffic offences is a clear sign that the Hon. Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice Lagos State Mr. Adeniji Kazeem is seeking innovative ways to decongest the court and facilitate justice delivery. What is your assessment of this novel introduction?
I applaud the Hon. Commissioner/Attorney General Adeniji Kazeem for this novel and timely initiative. The mobile court platform is an effective medium for policing traffic infractions in real time while enhancing the safety of our residents on the roads of Lagos. It is about time some measure of discipline and law and order is introduced on our roads here in Lagos State where Drivers just do what they like with no respect for other road users. This is a relatively new program and so far, it is performing above expectation.
The Lagos state Government has created several avenues to encourage the use of Alternative Dispute Resolution mechanisms, including introducing the Lagos Multi-door Courthouse and the Lagos Court of Arbitration. How can the Judiciary promote the use of ADR in the Lagos State?
In June 2002, through a multi-stakeholder engagement, which includes local communities, the Judiciary and corporate organisations, NCMG International established The Lagos Multi Door Courthouse as the first court connected ADR Centre in Africa. NCMG International has also been engaged as the primary consultant for the establishment of the Supreme Court Mediation Centre in Abuja. The Supreme Court Mediation Centre in alignment with international best practices seeks to reduce the length of dispute resolution in the country while creating confidence in a vibrant, effective and proactive Judiciary within the local and international communities. I am also aware that the NCMG International did champion the inclusion of Order 19 into the Court of Appeal Rules, which introduced the Court of Appeal Mediation Program. However, I am aware that the facility is yet to be properly established by the Court of Appeal.
Already in Lagos State ADR is already part of our judicial system because under the 2012 Rules all cases are screened when filed and separated into those that are sent to the ADR Track and the normal litigation track. The cases that are screened to go to the normal ADR Track then go before ADR Judges who oversee the Mediation process with a view to the amicable settlement of these matters. These classes of cases are usually matters involving Landlord and Tenant, simple debts and some family disputes. We also have an annual Settlement Week where these classes of cases that are in the normal track are sent to the Multi Door Courthouse for settlement as a means of decreasing the number of cases in the dockets of the courts.
ADR is more effective with willing participants. With limited public knowledge and understanding of ADR, most disputants are unable to make an informed judgement about the cost and benefits of ADR. The Judiciary can play a pivotal role in the education of the public, as mandatory referral to ADR would provide an opportunity for participants to explore the potentialities of ADR. I must take this opportunity to applaud the Lagos State Judiciary and the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Hon Justice Mahmud Mohammed, GCON who has mandated all other State judiciaries that do not currently have a multi-door courthouse to immediately introduce one while the existing ones be immediately strengthened. The Chief Justice of Nigeria can be likened to Lord Woolf of the United Kingdom, who championed the British Access to Justice reform.
There have been debates about the retirement age of Judges, there are arguments for High Court Judges to retire at 65 and for Appeal and Supreme Court Justices to retire at 70. What is your view on the current retirement age of Judges?
I think we need to have the same retirement age for High Court and appellate Judges. I suggest that the age of retirement age of Judges at all levels should be 70 to make room for younger judges to take over with fresh and more modern thinking.
Recently, the mode of appointing Judges was modified and new criteria introduced. It has been regarded in some quarters as violating the provisions of the constitution. What is your view on the new rules for appointing Judges?
If the Judiciary were to align itself to the ever-changing needs and demands of the public, it must ensure that the criteria for appointing Judges reflect current realities. The NJC which is the body created by the 1999 Constitution is empowered to do this has constantly evolved guidelines for the State Judicial Service Commissions on the appointment of Judges to the High Court Bench. My view however is that more emphasis should be placed on the experience and exposure of the candidates than any other consideration.
As a Judge who served on the bench for many years what will you say was your most defining moment?
My most defining moment was watching both mother and child reconciled pursuant to my decision in the Miracle Baby Case. That made me quite emotional and I tried not to be emotional about any of my cases. It is at that point that I experienced an epiphany moment and realised that this is what I really wanted to do with my life. It dawned on me that I had chosen the right career path, which was most fulfilling. I had always wanted to be able to contribute positively to society in some manner and since I was in the legal profession doing justice and championing that, which is right, was what drew me into wanting to become a Judge so much. I believe that to be able to do justice one should basically have an innate sense of justice to know what is right or wrong. Once you have this the rest is easy it is only when one hearkens to outside interference that the job becomes very difficult.
What significant role will you say women have played in the country’s judicial system?
In the Lagos State Judiciary well over 2/3 of the Judges are female and we have held our own very well in the judicial system. The output of the Judges has increased and there is more respect for the High Court Bench. I agree with the saying that whatever a man can do, a woman can do 10 times better and we have proved our mettle in Lagos State. In short we have held our own, as there has been no established case of corruption against any of the Judges. The women have proved that we are more than capable of dispensing justice.
I should also add that the female Judges in Nigeria belong to an Association called the National Association of Women Judges (NAWJN) where we along with other women in the legal profession organise various programmes for Women and the girl child to ensure that they obtain justice whenever and wherever within Nigeria it is needed. Our latest project is the GLOW PROJECT, which is the Global Leadership Of Women Project. This Association is affiliated to the IAWJ (International Association of Women Judges) based in the USA and through various Workshops held both here and in several other countries we seek to stop the abuse of power against women through sextortion and related offences. Being that most of us are mothers and are naturally gifted with nurturing qualities and abilities we have managed in our own way to restore confidence in the judicial system.
Since retiring in June 2014 you have been extremely busy, delivering papers at seminars amongst a host of other things, what may we ask have you been doing that has occupied your day-to-day life?
I must confess that before I retired I was a bit worried as to what I would do with my ever-busy self once I no longer had a regular job to go to every morning to occupy my day. After the initial rest of 6 months I gave myself where I did absolutely nothing but eat, sleep and travel I set up a Consultancy, which provides legal advice, Mediation and Arbitration Services. Before I left office I began to look into Arbitration and ADR as a means to augment my meagre pension which has paid off somewhat as I now have a few arbitration matters that I am handling and this keeps me busy. I have also become a member of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators and I am now trying to psych myself into taking the Fellowship examination.
I am also the country chair of the NCMG INTERNATIONAL that I have already spoken about earlier and a member of the Board of Trustees of the ASSOCIATIONS OF MULTI DOOR COURTHOUSES IN NIGERIA. I am a member of the Board of the LAGOS COURT OF ARBITRATION and the Chairman of 2 other Boards. So in between attending board meetings and my Consultancy I find that I am now quite busy but the beauty is that I am no longer tied down to any schedule and I work at my own pace. I have also been called upon from time to time to sit on panels to discuss topical issues and I occasionally deliver keynote addresses at functions.
I still however still find time to see my grandchildren and spend time with them although I hear that they are complaining that Grandma is not behaving as if she has retired. I have also started learning how to play the piano, which I must say I am finding quite tasking, as my fingers are quite stiff. But its fun though I must admit. So all in all I find that I am having a good time in retirement as I always say that ‘rest is sweet after labour. ‘