Justice is key in any society. No society can prosper without justice. So my plan is to draw the concentrated attention of the participants to Justice Administration in our society and the challenges militating against an effective, efficient, fulfilling and impactful justice delivery in Nigeria with particular focus on the Legal Practitioners.
As an active player, I want to state that the challenges confronting Justice Administration in Nigeria is systemic, structural and attitudinal in nature. For me however, the greatest impediment to impactful justice delivery whereby everyone involved will get value and fulfilment is an attitudinal problem. No matter how bad a system or structure may be, if the practitioners do the right thing, apply the right approach and take the right step, the effect of the inadequacy of the system and structure can be mitigated. This is why I am focusing on the practitioners.
Whether as an Advocate or a Commercial Legal Practitioner, the end that we seek for our clients is Justice, Justice, and Justice!!!
However, it is not an overstatement to say that the practitioners of the system either as Advocates, both private and commercial and Judges on the Bench erect various impediments to getting impactful justice. That is to say getting speedy justice that will fulfil the expectations of the people without delay and or procrastination as is the case in Nigeria today. It is common knowledge that cases last in some instance for as much as 10-15-20 years journeying from the High Court to the Supreme Court. Arbitration which throughout the world is known as an alternative dispute resolution is also failing to meet its target. Examples abound in Nigeria that arbitral awards are also gradually becoming a cause of action rather than resolution of a dispute between contending parties.
How about endless adjournments, frivolous applications, frivolous interlocutory appeals, frivolous petitions against opposing Counsel and even in some cases against trial Judges. All on the part of the Practitioners at the Bar. On the part of the Bench, you see negative attitude to innovations, late sittings or not sitting at all, lack of proper apprehension of the Rules and lack of the necessary will to enforce the Rules. These are some of the frustrating attitudes of the Practitioners in achieving positive justice. We have got to change this negative attitude if we want results that will be positively impactful to the users of the system. Everyone’s attitude determines his/ her altitude.
The Legal Profession is a highly regulated profession with a standard code of conduct to guide and moderate our operations. Unfortunately, it appears to me that like any other law in Nigeria, the enforcement of this standard code of conduct is less effective; hence, impunity reigns supreme. The time has come for us to begin to do things in a different way so that we can get a different result. Otherwise, the Profession will be gone before we know it.
To address these challenges mentioned above, proper attention must be focused on our disciplinary procedure in order to ensure that smart but procedurally wrong steps are made sanctionable. A Counsel who files frivolous suits must be sanctioned for failure to offer proper professional advice to clients. The same goes for Counsel who take pleasure in defending the indefensible. After all, it is a professional misconduct for a Counsel to urge a defence he does not believe in on the Court.
We have argued over and over again that interlocutory appeals be made to terminate at the Court of Appeal. For me nothing stops the total termination of interlocutory appeals so that whatever dissatisfaction against any Ruling should be taken together with the substantive judgment. Something similar to what operates in election petition cases.
Before anybody challenges any arbitral award, the challenger must be made to deposit the award into an interest yielding account. These I submit will stop many frivolous cases challenging a properly rendered award by an arbitral panel. Most of the cases are to exhaust the patience of the other party and render the award useless.
Our Judges must come back to the days of old of erudity and industry when Bench Rulings are delivered promptly in respect of contentious applications instead of the usual adjournments that we witness today on any little argument. It is said that an ignorant Judge is a calamity to the society. Of course, the Rules of procedure must be obeyed including award of costs in accordance to the Rules for any shortcoming by Counsel.
The Lawyers must hold their duties to justice as a minister in the temple of justice superior to any other duty by doing the proper thing most expeditiously.
DELE ADESINA SAN
Excerps from an interactive session with Mr. Dele Adesina SAN and members of the NBA Nigeria- KYA group on Whatsapp on 9th May, 2020.