Lawyers from all branches of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) in Lagos State have demanded justice administration reforms in a meeting with the Chief Judge of Lagos State, Justice Kazeem Alogba.
Their delegation included Bar leaders, Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs), chairmen of NBA Lagos, Ikeja, Ikorodu, Badagry, Epe and Surulere branches as well as other selected Bar leaders.
The meeting – held on July 28, 2022 – was also attended by the Attorney-General of Lagos State, Mr. Moyosore Onigbanjo, SAN.
In recent times, there have been protests from lawyers and litigants concerning the slow and frustrating process of filing papers in the Registry of the Court due to the ineffectiveness of the Judicial Information System (JIS).
Leading the NBA Team were Dr. Babatunde Ajibade, SAN, Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, SAN, Dr. Monday Ubani, Mr. Yinka Farounbi, Ms. Patience Patrick-Udoh and chairmen of all NBA branches.
Welcoming the Bar leaders, the Chief Registrar of the High Court, Magistrate Tajudeen Elias said the meeting was part of the existing statutory meetings between the Bar and the Bench.
In his welcome address, the Chief Judge said he was happy that there was an avenue for the Bar and the Bench to interact.
Ajibade presented the NBA’s case, pointing out that the human interface in the JIS system of e-filing is frustrating the process of access to Justice.
He said it takes an average of one or two months for a permanent suit number to be assigned to a new case, even with an affidavit of urgency.
He cited the example of Rivers State, where the e-filing system has been working effectively.
He stated further there must be the political will to support the system with functional infrastructure for optimal performance, given the position that Lagos State occupies in the judiciary in Nigeria.
In his response, the Chief Judge of Lagos State stated that he had heard of these complaints but no one had given him specific particulars of how cases are being delayed to enable him to deal with the situation decisively.
He said the Governor of Lagos State is very much concerned about the judiciary and he takes issues relating to the administration of Justice as a top priority.
He assured the Bar that efforts are ongoing to improve the e-filing system.
In his contribution, Adegboruwa gave a first-hand experience at the e-filing section of the Lagos Division of the Court.
He gave particulars of a new case that he filed on July 2, 2022, and only got the permanent suit number last week.
He said he was at the Court Registry himself on Tuesday, July 26, 2022, to continue the process of filing a fundamental rigged application with an affidavit of urgency that was commenced the previous day July 25, 2022.
He could not complete the filing until late in the afternoon, by which time the vacation judge had risen for the day.
He said litigants and litigation clerks had to leave their homes very early in the morning to pick a number to stay in a queue, for a process that would not commence until 9am when the generator powering the building is activated and it would be off by 2pm when all activities will be shut down.
Adegboruwa said the environment of the e-filing system was too choking, dangerously crowded and generally unsuitable, the location being at the basement of the building where internet connection is either very poor or unavailable at all, adding that the system shuts itself down most times.
He further pointed out that there are only three archaic computers with obsolete scanners and they are not effective to serve the number of people queuing up to file processes.
The Chief Judge directed those concerned to note all the observations for immediate action while pointing out that there is a consultant engaged for the e-filing processes.
He stated that part of the challenge being faced by the judiciary in Lagos State was due to the #EndSARS experience which led to the destruction of the JIC Taylor iconic building and monument.
He said the new building may be ready for use by December 2022, adding that a new Commercial Division is being constructed at the former Tapa Street Magistrates Court premises to accommodate about 10 modern courtrooms.
He appealed to the Bar for understanding, given the peculiar challenges.
In his contributions, Onigbanjo stated that it was necessary to fast-track the process of access to Justice and he assured that the judiciary would do its best to ensure that the filing system is self-operative to remove human interface.
He said a timeline should be worked out before the end of the current annual vacation of the court, to implement a completely self-operated e-filing system.
At the end of the deliberations, it was resolved that the processes of e-filing will be thoroughly overhauled to remove the need for a human interface to reduce or minimize physical presence in the filing process.
It was also resolved that a joint task force between the Bar and the Judiciary will be set up to monitor the smooth execution of all issues agreed upon at the meeting.
The meeting agreed on September 1, 2022, as the takeoff date of the new e-filing system that will remove the need for physical presence at the Court Registry.