At justice sector summit April 24: Prospect of terminating more cases at Appeal Court, others top agenda  

Major stakeholders in Nigeria’s justice sector will gather at a two-day summit  to brainstorm on the challenges facing the justice system with a view to finding solutions to them.

In specific terms, the gathering will look at the issues relating to the judicial appointments process, administration, funding and budgeting for the judiciary, as well as the elimination of delays and inefficiencies in justice delivery.

Also, they will seek to evolve ways to reduce the amount of time for adjudication of cases, eliminate some of the associated technicalities, and ultimately reduce the number of cases getting to the Supreme Court to lessen the burden of the top judicial officers.

The event scheduled to hold April 24 and 25, 2024 at the National Judicial Institute (NJI) in Abuja, is to be declared open by President Bola Ahmed Tinubu with other top government officials and legal giants within and outside the country in attendance.

Among them is a renowned legal scholar and former Chief Justice of Kenya, Willy Mutunga, who is expected to set the ball rolling with a keynote address.

Attorney General and Minister of Justice Lateef Fagbemi (SAN) announced this while briefing journalist Thursday in Abuja.

Flanked by President Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) Yakubu Maikyau (SAN) and some top aides from the justice ministry, the AGF said Nigeria “cannot afford to remain complacent in the face of the obstacles impeding the efficient delivery of justice for all Nigerians.”

Fagbemi also said the ministry was partnering with the NBA and the National Judicial Council (NJC) “to address critical challenges in the justice sector.”

He said: “This crucial event seeks to address the significant challenges plaguing Nigeria’s justice sector and pave the way for much-needed reforms that will make justice more accessible to all Nigerians.”

Dropping some hints on the summit’s agenda, the AGF said: it is to “review, validate, and adopt the revised National Policy on Justice 2024 2024–2028 to drive prison reforms, access to justice for the average Nigerian, as well as the review of electoral laws and procedures in handling election related matters.”

Fagbemi also stated that the policy document outlines a broad framework and initiatives in 17 thematic areas aimed at reforming the justice sector to enhance its effectiveness and accessibility to all Nigerians to ensure that justice is not just a privilege for the few, but a right for all.

“The policy aims to address various challenges within the legal framework, seeking to promote social cohesion, bolster economic development, and foster good governance.

The minister  said: “Furthermore, the Summit will deliberate on draft legislations proposed to address specific identified challenges within the justice sector, relating to the judicial appointments process, administration, funding and budgeting for the judiciary, the elimination of delays and inefficiencies in justice delivery and to evolve ways to reduce the amount of time for adjudication of cases, eliminate some of the associated technicalities, and reduce the number of cases getting to the Supreme Court.

“In this regard, we intend to look at a situation where many cases will terminate at the court of appeal to reduce the burden on our noble justices of the Supreme Court.”

…Challenges in Nigeria’s justice system

The country’s justice system is fraught with delays in adjudication of cases.

Many criminal cases involving politically exposed persons like former governors and ministers linger in courts for upward of five to 10 years before they are disposed of.

Also human rights enforcement cases and business-related matters linger forever in courts, and when finally decided, victorious litigants face uphill tasks to enforce court judgements.

The appeal process is as bad with the appellate courts clogged by years long backlog of cases.

Besides the slow pace of the justice delivery system in the country, unbridled corruption from top to bottom of the justice sector is a major cause of waning public confidence in the judiciary and other related institutions, with many citizens believing that the system only serves the highest bidders.

During Mr Fagbemi’s ministerial screening for the role of AGF, he promised to lead reforms in the justice sector.

He suggested a merger of anti-corruption agencies like the EFCC and the ICPC to streamline and have a better coordinated fight against corruption, but when asked by this reporter if the President Tinubu-led regime was considering the suggestion, Mr Fagbemi ignored the question.

In addition, the government’s unwillingness to invest in digital resources to aid investigations and trial of both criminal and civil matters has worsened Nigeria’s justice sector output.

Mr Fagbemi said legal experts within and outside the country would “engage in constructive discussions and develop practical solutions that prioritise the justice needs of the average Nigerian.”

“The National Summit on Justice presents a unique opportunity to collectively tackle the pressing issues hindering the efficient, fair, and people-centered delivery of justice in our nation.

The Joint Planning Committee established by the Federal Ministry of Justice and the NBA, headed by the Chairman of the NBA Judiciary Committee, Babatunde Ajibade, a SAN, has assembled a remarkable group of speakers and panelists to share their invaluable knowledge and expertise and proffer constructive solutions for making the justice system more efficient and accessible to all Nigerians.

Notably, the summit will feature a keynote address by Willy Mutunga, EGH, a renowned legal scholar, jurist and former Chief Justice of Kenya, celebrated for his commitment to democratic principles and human rights, and for the transformative judicial reform that took place in Kenya under his watch. (Additional report from Premium Times)