By Henry Ojelu/Lagos-Nigeria (TheHeat) The Chief Judge of Lagos state, Justice Opeyemi Oke on Monday inaugurated Small Claims Courts to as part of efforts to fast track justice delivery in commercial disputes involving small claims.
The inauguration of the Small Claims Courts, the first in the country, took place at JIC Taylor Court House, Igbosere, Lagos.
Justice Oke said that the Small Claims Courts would operate at the magistrate level and adjudicate on claims not exceeding N5 million.
She recalled that the establishment of the courts was one of the reforms she promised to carry out to move the Lagos Judiciary forward in her inaugural address last year.
She disclosed that 15 magistrate courts have been designated as Small Claims Courts within the five judicial divisions in the state.
“Coincidentally, the Presidential Enabling Business Environment Council (PEBEC), a World Bank initiative, under the office of the Vice President on the Ease of Doing Business in Nigeria, also has as part of its reforms ‘Enforcement of Contracts“, with the introduction of specialized small claims commercial courts at the centre of the reforms. For this purpose, two states were chosen as Pilot States, Lagos State and Kano State”.
Justice Oke stated that in January this year, she set up a five-member Small Claims Court Committee comprising a Judge of the High Court, Justice Yetunde Adesanya, as Chairman and four Magistrates, three of whom she said are Chief Magistrates with administrative portfolios, in fulfilment of her commitment to the Lagos State Judiciary and the court’s role in the provision of Enabling Business Environment Initiative.
According to her, the committee was required to draft a Small Claims Court procedures and guidelines and make recommendations for matters incidental to the workings of the Small Claims Courts within the Magistrates Courts’ system.
She was elated that the Lagos State Judiciary now has the “Magistrates‘ Court Law (Practice Directions on Small Claims)“ for the operation of the Small Claims Court”.
“The objective of the Small Claims Court’s Procedure is to provide easy access to an informal, inexpensive and Speedy resolution of simple debt recovery disputes in the Magistrates’ Courts, of ciaims, not exceeding N5million.
She stated: “The Small Claims Court’s Procedure is simplified, in that every step has been reduced into standard forms, which the claimant or defendant/counter claimant as the case may be simply fills and files, i.e. Letter of demand, Complaint Form, Claim’s Form/Summons among others.
“There is a handbook/guide, which explains each step of the process, guides through the filling of the forms and provide answers to almost every conceivable question that a party who is desirous of using the process may have.
“There is a plan to have the Handbook printed in other languages, including Yoruba, Hausa, Ibo and Pidgin English, to encourage the use of the procedure and self representation by semi illiterates and illiterates. The Procedure is inexpensive, in that it encourages self
representation by parties. It also encourages amicable settlement of the disputes.
The Procedure is fast and efficient, every step is time-bound with sanctions for default.
“The entire hearing period from the first date of hearing, inclusive of the time allowed for exploring amicable, settlements must not exceed 30 days. The entire period of proceedings from filing till judgment is not to exceed 60 days”, she stated.
The state Attorney General, Mr Adeniji Kazeem, in his remarks at the ocassion, said that the establishment of the courts will complement the efforts of Governor Akinwunmi Ambode’s administration geared towards enhancing justice delivery in the state.
He noted the courts are features of developed countries like Britain, Russia, America, Japan among others.
Kazeem remarked Lagos state, through the various reforms being implemented in the judiciary by the Chief Judge, Justice Oke, contributed immensely towards the rating of the country as the eighth among ten most improved countries by the World Bank.
He commended the Chief Judge for her foresight for the establishment of the Small Claims Court which he described as “a worthy legacy and succour to legal and business community”.
Senior Special Assistant (SSA) to the President on Enabling Business Environment Council in the office of the Vice President, Dr Jumoke Oduwole, commended the Chief Judge, Justice Oke and the Lagos Judiciary for been the first Judiciary to break the World Bank deadline of April 30.
While expressing delight at the establishment of the courts, Dr Oduwole stressed the need for the training of the Magistrates that will adjudicate on matters involving small claims to ensure fast and efficient justice delivery.