The Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, has noted that an effective synergy among the three arms of government, including representatives of the legal profession, would be a useful approach to confront the urgently required reform of Nigeria’s administration of justice system.
Osinbajo, who disclosed this yesterday at the virtual edition of the Wole Olanipekun & Co (WOC) Justice Summit, also hinted that such collaboration is in the works.
The summit themed “Developing an Institutional Concept of Justice in Nigeria,” featured prominent speakers, including the convener, Chief Wole Olanipekun, SAN; Prof. Fidelis Oditah, QC, SAN; Mr. Yemi Candide-Johnson, SAN; notable economist, Prof. Pat Utomi; and a prominent lawyer from the UK, Brie Stevens-Hoare, QC, among others.
The Vice President, according to a statement issued by his spokesman, Laolu Akande, said “I think it is important for us to sit together – the leadership of the profession, the executive, the judiciary and the legislature, to take a second look at some of these issues.”
Osinbajo said the collaboration to get the reform going should also include states, saying, “working together, the sub-nationals and the federal government and their judiciaries, we can make a fundamental change. This is obviously a matter that we must take seriously and address, not just as professionals but we must involve all the arms of government”, he said.
Still on the concept of justice that addresses the socio-economic needs of the people, Prof. Osinbajo said “socio-economic rights even where wholly justiciable mean nothing unless there is a fiscal commitment to enforcement. This is the crucial intersection of politics, ideology and notions of justice,” he said.
The summit also addressed such issues, including judicial appointments, delays in the courts, the issue of technicalities, among other critical elements of the justice sector reform agenda.
Speaking specifically on the appointment of judges as an important area of reform in the system, the Vice President said, “judicial appointments should follow a merit based system and this is absolutely necessary; we need to insist on mandatory tests and interviews for all applicants.
He added that “clearly, we need to look more carefully at how our judges are selected. There has to be an objective process of selecting judges. We cannot insist that the only way to become a judge is to be a (judicial) career person or move from the high court to the Court of Appeal, to the Supreme Court. We must be able to bring in practicing lawyers, academics to be justices of the Court of Appeal and Supreme Court. If it requires rewriting the rules, then let us rewrite the rules.”
Making reference to other areas in the systems that have been identified as requiring urgent reform, Osinbajo said, “a lot of those things that have been said today can be achieved.
“For example, we can ensure that the process of criminal trial is short and we get justice within a reasonable time.
“Issues like rape, there are all sorts of sociological issues and barriers that need to be encountered. The way the system responds to rape cases is also a problem. So, we need a change of mindset as well as the legal system responding adequately and promptly to situations where rape is reported,” he said.
In his contribution, the keynote speaker, Prof. Fidelis Oditah, said pertinent issues that require urgent reform in the administration of justice system include the reform of dispute resolution mechanisms and an overhaul of the current system that focuses more on technicalities rather than the substance of cases brought before the courts, amongst others.
Oditah, referring to instances where appellate courts overturned decisions merely based on technicalities without addressing the public interest implications, noted that such judicial behavior is not desirable, should be avoided and possibly prevented as much as possible through the reforms.
The WOC Justice Summit was moderated by Mr. Bode Olanipekun, SAN, and the Managing Partner of Wole Olanipekun Chambers.