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Lagos Judiciary Begins Court Decongestion Project, To Review 20 Year-old Cases

Lagos state judiciary has commenced the process of decongesting the high courts of old cases.

About 376 of such cases, most of which dated back over 20 years, have been identified for review in the state high courts and may be referred to Alternate Dispute Resolution (ADR).

The Chief Judge, Justice Opeyemi Oke disclosed this today at a news conference held to announce the commencement of the court decongestion process.

Justice Oke said the move, was not just to decongest the courts, but also to ensure speedy dispensation of justice in the state.

She said the fact that the Lagos judiciary has the highest number of pending old cases was not heart warming.

“It is on record that the Lagos State Judiciary has cases that date back to 20 years and beyond and this image, if it persists, is hazardous to the economic wellbeing of the State and Nigeria ultimately.

“In fact, His Excellency, President Muhammadu Buhari, while declaring open the Bi-Annual Conference of All Nigeria Judges of the Superior Courts held between 20thand 24thof November, 2017 and organized by the National Judicial Institute, Abuja noted the fact that Lagos State Judiciary has the highest number of pending old cases.

“This situation apparently damages the brand of a “Global Lagos” and one which I do not intend to see continue. Global Lagos requires and truly deserves a world class judicial system”.

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To correct the situation, she said the state judiciary will be undertaking a review of all pending matters on a case-by-case basis for the purpose of determining the suitability of each case for Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR).

The Chief Judge said a review of the 376 cases which commenced January 22 revealed the probable causes of delay and classified into three.

According to her, ” Inefficient Case Management by Counsel accounts for 45per cent; Court Indisposition and Interlocutory Appeals account for 20 per cent whilst the cause of delay of the outstanding 35 per cent has been ascribed to other factors which include numerous indulgent interlocutory applications, Courts going on national assignments in Election Tribunals and official assignments for conferences and trainings for months, protracted Case Management Conference, Multiplicity of interlocutory applications, Long adjournments, Trial having to commence de novo when a Judge is elevated or retires, amongst others”

She disclosed that certain remedies have been put in place to eradicate the delays impeding the progress of the cases.

She stated for instance that trials need not commence de novo again as options shall be included in new rules to allow judges to rely on certified transcript of trial proceedings already commenced or completed before an elevated or retired judge.

She said new practice direction are in draft stage to guide and regulate the court decongestion process.

“Also, since the Civil Justice System involves conducts and activities both inside and outside the Court, a Practice Direction on Pre-Action Protocols to provide a Code of Practice outside the court will issue, just as there exists Rules of Court to provide a Code of Practice inside the Court.

“The Pre-Action Practice Directions will be expected to guide conduct prior to the commencement, as a last resort, of legal proceedings in Court.

“The failure of parties or their counsel to comply with Pre-Action Protocol obligations elaborated under the Practice Direction, prior to commencing litigation, would attract significant or punitive cost penalties, inside the court, where such non-compliance is determined to be unreasonable or disproportionate especially in respect to refusals to accept or participate in offers or attempts at ADR or amicable settlement, even where the Party eventually wins the case”, she stated.

Justice Oke said an ad-hoc task force committee on old cases led by Justice S.B.A Candide-Johnson, has been constituted in furtherance of the backlog elimination programme (BEP).
She added that a good number of law firms have also volunteered to participate in the forensic screening of the old cases.

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