judiciary

We are in the era where it has become fashionable to question the work ethic and commitment of the judiciary in very uncomplimentary terms. Speeches by politicians at even family gatherings or wedding ceremonies are now commonly punctuated with criticisms of the judiciary and toastsare ended with “the judiciary is the problem of Nigeria. When a group of people do not agree and they split into factions they blame the judiciary.

They claim the judiciary is the problem with Nigeria, forgetting how we handle problems in Nigeria; we throw money at problems. When thebanks were becoming our problem we threw money at them and bailed them out, when the airlines, were becoming a problem, we threw money at them, when the militants were becoming a problem we threw money at them, same for states .With this established pattern of “problem solving”, money is yet to be thrown at the judiciary, presupposing that the judiciary is notactually the problem.

However some of these notions and the related perception of the social functions of the judiciary are to an extent formed on the basis of the individual’s personal experiences in the judicial system and the experiences of others. But like doctors in an emergency ward, the performance of the judiciary is, to a large extent, measured on when it falter rather than when they get things right. No human being is perfect, the same goes for organizations. For example you go to banking halls and cashiers overpay customers, you go to hospitals and doctors administer wrongs drugs, but that of the judiciary is seen in a different light. When a process is delivered late by a bailiff, or when evidence is not handled right, or when a judgment is mistakenly leaked by a court staff, it is not seen as an honest mistake, it is labeled an act of corruption.

The core business of the court is the provision of equal justice under law, due process, equal access, and independent and impartial treatment and decisions, the question there in is, how can the judiciary align its strategic plan with these goals? It is by having a strategic plan which enables the employees to make their best possible contribution.

The judiciary is quite complex because you have various agencies that have to come together to make this possible (the National Judicial Council (NJC), the Federal Judicial Service Commission (FJSC), the National Judicial Institute (NJI) and the State Judicial Service Commissions. Management in courts needs to be cohesive and strategic .The connection between caseflow management: education, training, and development; budgeting and finance; information technology; and human resources have to be seamless.

The judiciary has made giant strides with the little it receives from the state and federal budgets.For example the NJC has raised the bar for performance evaluation of judges , a code of conduct is in place for judicial officers ,that’s why you don’t find judges at most of the social events where they end up bashing the judiciary .

The judiciary now has Judicial Information Technology Policy (JITPO); a case management system has been deployed at the Supreme Court, while that of the Court of Appeal is being worked on. The NJC signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the judiciaries of Bahamas, Barbados, Eastern Caribbean and Trinidad and Tobago to enable them use the Nigerian Case Management Software. While an arm of the government with a bigger budget doesn’t have a functional electronic voting system, go figure out (let me keep quiet before they pad my life with insults).

Over the years, the Nigerian judiciary has been meeting challenges and taking advantage of opportunities while preserving its core values, but the judiciary needs a strategic plan to enable it reach its full potential. A strategic plan is a systematic process of envisioning a desired future, and translating this vision into broadly defined goals or objectives and a sequence of steps to achieve them. In contrast to long-term planning (which begins with the current status and lays down a path to meet estimated future needs), strategic planning begins with the desired –end and works backward to the current status.

Nigeria as a nation has had different strategic plans, operation feed the nation, vision 2010 etc so have other nations or organisations. Various judiciaries around the world have their strategic plans; these plans are put in place to serve as a guide for the judiciary over a period of time usually from 3-5 years or more. The plan usually sets forth a framework to enhance the public trust and confidence in the judiciary by improving services, accessibility and accountability. Such strategic plans are made from information gathered, analysing trends (social, economic, judicial, technological, policy and political etc) that are likely to affect the judiciary in the upcoming years. The plan should seek to analyse the impact of these trends on the judiciary, as well as organizational assessment of the judiciary’s strengths and weaknesses in a bid to develop strategies to address these impacts and also align limited resources to support this plan. The judiciary as the third arm of government does not exist in isolation; therefore it needs to put into consideration other factors that might affect its performance. For example, the drop in the price of oil will likely affect the budget of the judiciary. Similarly a change in labour laws might also affect the employment policy of the judiciary. In the same vain the floating or possible sinking of the naira will definitely have an impact on the judiciary

The judiciary of Kenya has a vision to be the best in Africa; they had a four year strategic plan 2009- 2012, they have reviewed that and assessed the progress made and now have another, vision 2030, necessitated by the need to align the vision of the judiciary with that of the other agencies of government in Kenya.

The Unified Judiciary of Guam also has a strategic plan, adjusted to suite the financial difficulties, by focusing on key areas such as:

I- Organisational Structure. II- Workload and Use of Human Resources. III- Policies, Procedures and Work Processes. IV-Use of Technology and Availability and Use of Data Information. V-Practices, Attitudes and Habits of Judges and Court Staff. VI- Fiscal and Performance Accountability. VII-Service Level (e.g., programs, timeliness, accessibility). VIII-External Relations.

Almost all the courts in the USA have a strategic plan and, county courts have strategic plans that are linked to that of the state and other federal courts .The list of judiciaries that have strategic plans in place is endless.

Strategic plans provide a sense of direction and outlines measureable goals. It is important to organisations because it synthesises and distills the overreaching idea linking its practical strategies, enabling management and employees to align the specifics of their actions and decisions with a clearly defined vision and direction. The human resources and other court functions reflect the vision of the courts, if there is one.

Courts are fairly insular and closed with respect to educating the public and funding agencies on the functions and performance of the judicial branch. With court budgets typically comprising only a small fraction of states or the federal budgets, court leaders could successfully make a funding request to the states and national assembly’s without providing extensive justification, long-term plans, or performance data. The judiciary does not usually invest a lot of time or effort figuring how to effectively “tell the story” of the judicial branch because they feel it is not necessary. The National Centre for State Courts led by David Anderson, Robert Becker , Heike Gramekow and Kate Harrison conducted a budget development training in Nigeria in 2000, and arranged study tours for judges, budget officers , legislators and the executive branch in Maryland USA, this led to significant improvements in presentation and justification of the budgets of the judiciary . The budget of the Nigerian judiciary increased from 10 billion naira to 22 billion in 2001 out of which 5 billion naira was allocated for capital projects.

This shows that if there is a strategic plan in place and it is well publicised, the judiciary can seek funding from the executive and legislative arms of government without any problems or delays because the budget request is framed around the strategic plan. In this way, now there are parameters to use in measuring the performance of the judiciary, because the strategic planning process usually involves gathering inputs from court stakeholders (court litigants, attorneys, law enforcement personnel and representatives of other justice system agencies, and other members of the community who interface with court etc). It becomes a basis of conversation between all involved, leading to a better understanding and support of the courts.

Integrating strategic plans and management practices in court operations allows for continuity and stability during leadership transitions, which is a key governance challenge that every organization experiences from time to time. A change in designation of a chief judge, registrar or court administrator will not mean much if there is a plan in place with the appropriate monitoring mechanism that ensures its implementation during the leadership change.

– Joseph is a research fellow 1 at the National Judicial Institute, Abuja.

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