Lawyers back virtual hearing in Lagos, seek fee reduction

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By Adenike Ayodele

Some lawyers have expressed optimism that the virtual hearing method introduced by the Lagos State judiciary will speed up dispensation of justice in the state.

They disclosed this in separate interviews with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) on Friday in Lagos.

They spoke against the backdrop of the N30,000 virtual hearing fee per session announced on March 28 by the Chief Judge of Lagos State, Justice Kazeem Alogba.

Mr Malachy Ugwummadu, a former National President of the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights, described it as gratifying to find a way around adopting technology to deal with some clauses affecting the dispensation of justice in the state.

Ugwummadu said Alogba had the constitutional power to make rules for regulating the practice and procedure of the High Court of Lagos in accordance with Section 274 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (1999 as amended).

“The legality, constitutionality and validity of the Chief Judge to make regulations were derived from the constitutional provisions which allowed him to announce the virtual fee.

He said there was very little space for escape in relation to adopting technology and modern communication infrastructure as it further advanced the hierarchy of technological revolution, attending the process and procedure in court.

Ugwummadu, however, described the introduction of the fee as a two-way thing, saying that virtual hearing was more recognised in Lagos State.

According to him, there are no escape routes from adopting technology in judicial practice, as it helps in the enhancement of access to justice.

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”For me, it is a two-way traffic, on one hand, it is gratifying that we have found a way around adopting technology to deal with some of the clause that we have had in past procedures.

“For instance, in those cases in which I had to bring these applications, I have some witnesses who have relocated to London but must they come back to Nigeria just because I intend to lead them in evidence for a maximum of 40 minutes?

“The answer is no, so we got the application. It was granted and the challenge was handled.

Secondly, where it becomes impracticable to have these witnesses to testify physically, the beauty of what is now available is that you can have the person virtually attended to from the comfort of wherever he is and it is about balancing at the end of the day,” he said.

Ugwummadu, however, urged the chief judge to take into cognizance human rights lawyers who took up pro bono cases.

“My argument is on both sides. On the first side, we are great, boasting to enjoy the beauty of technology and on the other hand is how does it poses a limitation to access to justice.

“I think that my lord, the Chief Judge, is able to factor into decision cases that we human rights activists handle pro bono.

“We pay for filing, service fee and the likes for pro bono cases and in addition to the virtual fee, I think it is a huge sum but if we take all of these into consideration, we will be able to strike the right balance,” he said.

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A Lagos-based lawyer, Mr Ige Asemudara, also applauded the state judiciary for coming to terms with the need for virtual hearing of cases for the sake of speed and to proper management of manpower.

Asemudara, the founder of Mission Against Injustice in Nigeria, added that virtual proceedings would save cost for litigants.

According to him, virtual proceedings were basically introduced for speed and time management.

“Virtual proceeding was introduced because we needed to manage speed, time and reduce cost.

“It is a good thing that the Lagos State Judiciary has taken a step further.

“However, I am of the view that N30,000 is on a high side, though we are not forced to apply for it.

“The honourable chief judge should please look into it as there is a need to allow access to justice for both the rich, middle class and the poor.

“We should not look at it from the angle of counsel but from the angle of litigants who may not have the financial capacity to transport themselves to court to and fro,” he said.

Another Lagos lawyer, Mr Abdul Wahab, said that an equitable amount of money should be fixed for virtual hearing.

Wahab said that virtual hearing had made it easy for elderly people who could not afford the time and energy to give their evidence in the comfort of their homes.

He, however, said that the price should be reduced to boost accessibility.

NAN also reports an Information Technology (IT) firm, Global T & T New Solutions Ltd., which partnered the Lagos State judiciary on virtual court proceedings, said that the new development was geared towards leveraging on virtual /remote trial to enhance access to justice.

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The remote court payments go to the judiciary purse but managed by Global T&T New Solutions.

Edited by Chinyere Joel-Nwokeoma

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