Lamenting on how poorly lawyers living with disabilities have been neglected in the legal community the Association of Lawyers with Disabilities in Nigeria (ALDIN) is set to carry out massive advocacy campaign for the accessibility of the Justice administration system to Persons with Disabilities (PWDs).
In a statement by the president of the ALDIN, Daniel Amaechi Onwe, the campaign is supported by Disabilities Rights Fund and objective of the advocacy is to make the court environment and procedures as well as the policing system to be inclusive of PWDs generally.
According to him a situation where our systems and structures do not accommodate the peculiarities of PWDs is no longer acceptable. PWDs suffer diverse form of injustice, but cannot approach the courts to obtain justice due to the existence of different architectural, attitudinal and procedural barriers.
The trauma of suffering injustice on the one hand and on the other hand realizing that the justice administration system, where you should seek redress, does not even contemplate your existence is unimaginable.
“The situation is even worse with our policing system. The architectural setting in the average police station loudly tells you that PWDs are not welcome there.
“A deaf person, who has a complaint to make at the police station is on his or her own, as there is no provision for sign language interpretation.
Those on wheelchair cannot even enter the police stations in the first place. And those with psycho-social disability who gets to the police station to lodge reasonable complaints may be treated with ignominy or chased away as nuisance.
“The lot of lawyers with disabilities is not even better. Lawyers on wheelchairs cannot access our courts unless they crawl on all fours. Our courts have no provision for Braille, tactile marks or other media of assistive literacy.
“There are no provisions of sign language interpreters either. Rules of Courts and Practice Directions do not make any accommodation for lawyers or litigants with disabilities. Lawyers with disabilities are discriminated against when it comes to employment in chambers and other workplaces. You can imagine the pain of going through all the hog of legal training to become a lawyer, and then be rendered redundant. This ugly situation should stop.
“So, in this project, we shall be strategically engaging the critical stakeholders with a view of collaboratively working out solutions. Every aspect of the project shall be measured and profiled, including the level of responsiveness of each stakeholder engaged. At the end of the day we will come out with an objective report.
“The Association in it’s bid to achieve this goal will be engaging the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, the Chief Judge of the FCT, the Attorney-General or Solicitor-General, the Inspector-General of Police, the Commissioner of Police FCT, the NBA President, the NBA Chairman FCT among others.
“Fortunately, we now have a legal framework to work with – Discrimination against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Act. So, this project is about giving effect to the provisions of this Act. It also aligns with Article 13 of the United Nations Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities, dealing with Access to Justice, and goal 16 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), dealing on Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions.
The justice administration system is expected to take the lead and show others example with regards to compliance with newly enacted Act and international best practices.
“On the part of the NBA, which is our primary constituency, we are lucky we now have a President who campaigned on issues of PWDs. These were his exact campaign words:
“Another category of lawyers whose welfare I will work towards ameliorating, from a professional standpoint, is that of the aged and disabled lawyers. If I am elected as the NBA President, I will work towards achieving better welfare programmes for these categories of lawyers and generally for all lawyers…
…Persons living with disability and the aged have special needs which unfortunately are not generally catered for in our Nigerian environment. These needs include access facilities into buildings, toilet facilities, specialized reading and legal practice materials and aids, customized technology aids and facilities. My administration as the NBA President will work at installing these facilities at the NBA Secretariat where the model law office would be located.
The model law office at the National Secretariat would also be made friendly to and usable by aged persons and persons living with disability. These facilities would gradually be expanded and provided at the NBA Zonal Offices in the 3 Zones of the NBA.
We would also open dialogue with the Chief Justice of the Federation and the heads of various courts in the Federation and the States on the required modifications for making the courts and the court facilities accessible to and usable by the aged and persons living with disability. More importantly, we shall dialogue constantly with these categories of lawyers to continually understand their needs and how best we can assist in meeting them.”
ALDIN further stated that they intend to collaborate with NBA President, Paul Usoro, SAN, in delivering on this lofty promise.
“We must admit that in the past two years, before the current regime, the NBA has incrementally been accommodating of lawyers with disabilities. This was reflected in the 2017 and 2018 NBA Annual General Conferences. With the kind of promises made by the incumbent NBA President, Mr. Paul Usoro, SAN it is expected that the standard will go no other way, but upwards.
“By the end of this project we are optimistic about having a justice administration system that we all can be proud of and that will better serve the interest of all.
We, therefore, use this medium to, in advance, call for the maximum cooperation of all the relevant stakeholders, as this is a mutually beneficial project that will foster national development.,” he stated