An Analysis of the Practice Direction of Lagos State High Court On Remote Hearing
By Olumide Ajayi & Kolawole Omoyajowo
The purpose of the law and relevance of the Justice delivery system is measured by its accessibility, affordability and profitability to the public at all times. This is because, just as the air is to a man, so is the law and its apparatuses to any society at any given time. Further to this, the law cannot be said to be in force when the structures that anchor its functionality is handicapped. That is, the existence and the efficacy of the law are contingent on the existence of structures and systems that administer it, dispense justice and midwife orderliness in the society. Hence, the outbreak of a pandemic or crisis that poses a severe threat to human life will not suffice to suspend the functionality of the court system; rather it challenges the court and its administrators to devise a dynamic model through which the objectives of the law can be realized. It is therefore the appreciation of this fundamental concept that drove countries such as the United States of America, United Kingdom, India and even, the republic of Kenya to develop or adopt digital structures for administering the law and dispensing justice through virtual technologies, as proactive response to surmount the challenges posed by the measures to curtail the spread of the dreaded coronavirus disease. Thus, to minimize hazardous exposure to health risk, the business of justice delivery must be shifted to the cyberspace and sustained even after the ravaging of the pandemic abates. This is because the adoption of technologies for conduct proceedings is an amazing breakthrough to ease the justice delivery system. It is therefore interesting to note that countries that have erected digital structures for Online Dispute Resolution record more conformity and compliance to lockdown directives and enforcement of measures. Also, these countries have further demonstrated that it is essential to paddle the sustenance of the economy and the survival of the nation into a new world order driven and powered by technologies and artificial intelligence. In the Nigeria scenario, the traditional structures for justice delivery system have been hibernated and sadly, the administration of justice is on a substantial lockdown. Little wonder, Nigeria tops the table of nations with substantial non-compliance to lockdown directives, failure of measures to contain the transmission of the dreaded coronavirus disease and a nearly economic meltdown. This distasteful record cannot be dissociated from the probable causal factor that the cessation of the administration of justice system makes the enforcement of the covid-19 curtailing measures to be difficult, if not impossible, as evidenced by the inability of the government to successfully enforce the lockdown measures in states like Lagos & Abuja. No doubt, the efficacy of the law cannot be gainfully appropriated when the court system is shutdown. In the heights of the coronavirus pandemic in Nigeria, the online vis-à-vis digital businesses are heavily patronized; some businesses are now relocating to the cyberspace, commercial & noncommercial disputes have arisen as a result of the lockdown which equally demand prompt adjudication. Yet, the Nigeria judiciary seems insensitive to this societal change.
However, the crux of this work is to critically examine the key provisions of the 2020 practice direction of the High Court of Lagos State on Remote hearing, commend the initiative of the Lagos State Judiciary, identify the loopholes in the provisions and charter a formidable pathway for the effective operation of remote hearing via digital platforms. All the provisions are critically analyzed and creative suggestions are made. This article is fashioned to be thought provoking and to stimulate further debates, rejoinders and ultimately, solid direction on the workings of electronic service of processes and online proceedings in Nigeria.
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