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Justice Olateru-Olagbegi

Evolve new ways of decongesting courts to avoid total collapse of legal system, Justice Olateru-Olagbegi urges judiciary

Legal luminary, Emeritus Justice (Dr.) Adesuyi Olateru-Olagbegi has urged the Nigerian Judiciary to quickly evolve new ways of decongesting the courts to avoid a total collapse of the legal system in the country with its many negative consequences.

Hon. Justice Olateru-Olagbegi, a retired Judge of the Lagos State High Court, who made the call in Abuja, the Federal Capital, said that there is urgent need to evolve new procedural ways of judging cases for faster dispensation of justice in order to decongest the courts at every jurisdictional level to avoid the total collapse of the legal system.

Olater-Olagbegi, a Prince of the Owo Kingdom in Ondo State, made the statement when speaking in Abuja as one of the Resource Persons at the just concluded 22nd Annual Seminar on Banks and Allied Matters organized for Nigerian Judges by the Chartered Institute of Bankers of Nigeria (CIBN) in collaboration with the National Judicial Institute (NJI).

The Judge referred to the serial indictments of the Nigerian Judiciary over its sluggish system that hurts the Financial and banking sector and gives comfort to defaulters who take solace in the long delays that creditors encounter in Nigerian courts before securing judgement.

Such indictments had been made in earlier addresses at the event by the President and Chairman of Council of the Chartered Institute of Bankers of Nigeria, Ken Opara Ph.D, FCIB and the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Dr Olayemi Cardoso who was represented.

Both speakers had canvassed the setting up of Special Commercial Courts to deal exclusively and expeditiously with Bank loans and Finance matters in order to restore confidence in the legal system.

In his speech, Justice (Dr) Olateru-Olagbegi also drew attention to the GUARDIAN NEWSPAPER of Wednesday, November 22, 2023, which ran a front page story lamenting the congestion of courts with cases, blaming such congestion, partly, on the preoccupation of Judges with election petition matters.

The story claimed that it sometimes takes up to 30 years for some cases to get from the trial court to conclusion in the Supreme Court.

Justice Olateru-Olagbegi noted, however, that regardless of the seasonal consumption of judicial time by election petition cases, courts of Law in Nigeria will always have more cases filed than there are Judges ready and able to attend to them.

He said the congestion was not a creation of Judges per se as they cannot stop parties from filing suits nor can they place an embargo on the filing of cases.

He stated that it was axiomatic that however diligent a Judge is, when he retires he will leave unfinished business behind for serving and future Judges.

“Matters that are part-heard will be sent to stand on the queue of the dockets of the Judges who are left behind. And so on, ad infinitum,” he noted, stressing that congestion of cases causes delays in the administration of justice and that such delays in turn have huge implications for the constitutional rights of citizens to fair hearing under S.36 OF THE CONSTITUTION OF THE FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA 1999 AS AMENDED.

He reminded the audience that the Appellate Courts have held in successive landmark cases that in the determination of their civic rights, parties are entitled to have their cases heard and disposed of with reasonable dispatch. He cited the cases of KOTOYE VS CBN (1989) 1 NWLR ( Pt 98) 419 at 448 per NNAEMEKA-AGU JSC and OWENA BANK NIG PLC & Ors VS OLATUNJI (1999) 13 NWLR ( PT 634) 218 at 234.

The Judge contended further that “the burden of every legal order is to constantly explore more efficient methods of judging, whether it is in the area of criminal law or in civil Law and that unless we evolve drastically improved methods of judging, a time will come when the public will lose hope completely in the efficacy of the legal system to sustain the legal order as we know it today.

“If that happens, people will take the laws into their hands, sending the society dangerously close to the fatalistic ‘State of Nature ‘
theory propounded by Thomas Hobbes.

“To avoid, preempt or delay this catastrophic stage, we must constantly explore and adopt new efficacious ways of judging,” he insisted,
pointing out that “In civil procedure, one of such ways is the one offered by the Bankers Committee’s Sub committee on Ethics and Professionalism which offers an effective ADR (Alternative Dispute Resolution) option to ease the task of Judges in financial conflict management cases with a track record of fast-tracking resolution of disputes.”

Justice Olateru-Olagbegi, a strong and long standing exponent of ADR, urged Judges and Lawyers alike to familiarize themselves with and embrace the said ADR option offered by the CIBN Banking Committee’s Sub Committee on Ethics and Professionalism as well as all other available ADR options, warning that if the legal system collapses under the weight of congestion, there would be no jobs for Judges or Lawyers alike.

The Justice also declared that his concern with congestion in civil matters applied “mutatis mutandi to criminal matters.”

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