The quality of a nation’s justice system remains pivotal in strengthening and deepening the rule of law. When a nation’s judicial system is anchored on the anvil of a quality justice system, a nation’s march to its Eldorado becomes an easy walk. However, when the justice system is found wanting in delivering justice, the workability of such a judicial system could turn out a long narrow curve into an alleyway of frightening specter.
It was the English writer and poet, Walter Savage Landor, who once declared: “Delay in justice is injustice”. For justice to serve its cause, it must be delivered as at when due so as to address the wrongs and deliver justice to the victim of an unjust action in order to assuage those who bleed under a wrongful act.
When victims are allowed to suffer for long on account of the wheels of justice grinding slow, the society suffers. Most advanced societies have perfected the art of expediting their justice systems to serve as a deterrent to criminals. When systems are weak and incapable of delivering speedy justice, the rule of law suffers.
Democracy is depended and further sustained by a nation’s justice system that is devoid of deferments and postponements. In Nigeria, the road to improved quality of justice delivery is fraught with thorns, with only a few lucky to access justice after waiting a little longer. For many others, they continue to remain silent victims of an oppressive system that preys on the dregs of society.
Since the appointment of Justice Monica Dongban-Mensem as the President of the Court of Appeal by President Muhammadu Buhari in June last year, concerted energies have been deployed to turn around the prospects of fast-tracking justice delivery and rising above the tides in order to meet the present challenges posed by issues trailing the administration of justice by the Court.
Under the watch of the present President of the Court of Appeal, unreached milestones previously unattainable by past leaderships of the Court have been attained in a bid to advance the cause of justice delivery. Faced with thousands of cases and motions before it, and confronted with the challenges brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Court of Appeal is leaving no stone unturned in confronting problems associated with administration of the justice system by the Court.
The recent approach of expediting the wheel of justice through the conversion of the annual retreat by Justices into a working retreat and providing a platform for clearing appeals left unattended to have assisted tremendously. In doing this, the court has not only succeeded in creating an avenue for interaction and exchange of ideas by Justices towards advancing the cause of justice, the retreat also affords the judges the opportunity of attending to cases yet attended to.
In demonstration how this working retreat has expedited the wheel of justice, while addressing Justices of the Appeal Court last week in Abuja during the ‘Unveiling of the Court of Appeal Rules, 2021 and 2nd Working Retreat and National Conference’, Justice Dongban-Mensem disclosed that the Court disposed of 5, 669 cases and 10, 798 motions in the out-going legal year.
According to her, “Similarly, despite a 51% increase in the number of Motions filed, we witnessed a 48% increase in the number of Motions disposed of by the Panels over the course of this Legal Year.
“Worthy of note is also the fact that a total of Five Hundred and Twenty-Eight (528) judgments (16.97% of the total number of Judgments) were delivered via the Zoom Online Platform during the course of the 2020-2021 Legal Year. 10 hearings were also held by Panels of the Court using this forum. In the last two months, a further Forty (40) Judgments have been delivered via the Zoom Platform.”
Amidst the plague of the Covid-19 pandemic that is leaving devastating trails on the administration of justice in many countries, it is commendable that the Court of Appeal is resorting to virtual platforms to deliver judgements and fasten the wheels of justice delivery.
Identifying the administration of justice as the primary focus of the Court, the President announced that the 2021-2022 Legal Year was commencing on a note of confidence as the Court “had an infusion of Eighteen (18) new Justices to the Court of Appeal in the course of the year 2021. I remarked at the time of their appointment that they were joining a Family Court, which is close knit and fraternal. I can confidently state that my Brother Justices, when sitting as a Panel, are a well-oiled machine.”
Calling on Appeal Court Justices to take advantage of the brotherly disposition of their learned Justices, having cut their teeth in special panels in the course of the annual retreat, The President of the Appeal Court noted with appreciation that the “new Justices have proven their mettle and must be highly commended for their work. It is certainly notable that my Lords the new Justices have been sitting in Special Panels with their Learned Brother Justices of the Abuja Division since yesterday, 6th December 2021. In that time, their Lordships have had to hear One Hundred and Ninety-Eight (198) Motions and Appeals, which is commendable indeed given that they sat in only six panels hearing an average of 33 matters per panel.”
Unlike in the past when such events were devoid of working sessions, under the headship of Justice Dongban-Mensem as President of the Court, such annual events have been turned into working retreat for Justices to enable them engage in the exchange of ideas and sharing experiences in advancing the cause of justice administration.
In the face of mounting challenges and frightening uncertainties caused by the Coronavirus plague, Justice Dongban-Mensem assured the Justices that the Court is imminently poised to confront “every challenge that will face us whether jurisprudentially or otherwise. We are committed to deepening the expeditious dispensation of justice and are not afraid to think out of the Box I order to achieve it.”
In a technology-driven world, the need to amend rules of practice towards enhancing administration of justice remains an inescapable option if the Court must rise to deliver quality justice. Rightly, the Chief of Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad, has commended the Court of Appeal for advancing the cause of justice by re-orientating its Justices to appropriately deliver justice on time.
Launching the new Practice Direction of the Court with a charge on the Justice not to rest on their oars but to continue to dispense justice without fear or favor, the CJN expressed confidence that with the calibre of Justices, justice is bound to be served and the administration of justice is poised to improve in the country.
There is no doubt that advancing the cause of justice delivery has become the cornerstone of the Court of Appeal. Considering the number of judgements and motions the Court has delivered, including the no fewer than 130 cases it attended to during its last week’s annual working retreat, the Court of Appeal has commenced a long walk to speedy administration of justice.
The launching of an in-house magazine, ‘Penultimate’, by the Court has the potential of broadening the information highway for both Justices and workers in understanding and adapting to new strategies towards availing critical stakeholders of fresh perspectives on crucial issues.
With the launch of its 2021 Rules, the magazine remains a platform for information dissemination in understanding some of these rules for proper understanding towards providing an enabling environment for improved quality of justice delivery. In the digital world that we now live in, the e-copy of the magazine can be made available to allow Justice administrators to access the editorial content of the news medium in understanding the activities of the Court.