Vice President Yemi Osinbajo has stressed the need for the nation’s judiciary to embrace technology and innovation for the evolution of the profession and national development.
This, he said, is necessary to ensure that the country’s justice delivery mechanism is run on a system of enforceable, discernible laws and efficient institutions.
Osinbajo stated this yesterday in a pre-recorded speech as guest speaker at the 2021 Annual Law Week of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) Lagos Branch, with the theme: ‘Disruption, Innovation and The Bar’.
Speaking on how the country’s justice delivery system can support critical investments in today’s very dynamic economy, the VP noted that “questions also need be asked about the readiness of our profession to engage in new markets as presented by the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCTA).
“Already Nigerian banks and financial services are crossing borders in Africa, acquiring banks in several African countries. So, the AfCTA will open new trans-border commercial opportunities, and our profession should pay attention to the rules of engagement for legal services and how they may propel our business.”
According to him, innovation in Nigeria’s legal profession requires urgency in both thought and action, especially in a world which currently thrives on knowledge economy, and where some jobs, including legal jobs, are being threatened by digitisation and Artificial Intelligence (AI).
On the issue of delay in the country’s justice delivery process, Osinbajo noted that the country’s judiciary ought to find ways to tackle jurisdictional challenges, particularly delays in court judgments, among others.
He said: “I argued an appeal at the Court of Appeal in 2013, only to learn yesterday as I discussed with former colleagues in the law firm where I worked, that the appeal at the Supreme Court is not even listed to be heard in 2021. As someone said our problem is not access to justice, it is exiting the justice system with some credible result.
“Should we not be evolving a cost award system that recognises the court as a finite public resource, and as such delays and other dilatory tactics are visited with deterrent costs?
Noting that the Law week, as well as future engagements, provided an opportunity for some reflections by legal practitioners, the VP raised pertinent issues that would spur innovation and growth in the country’s judiciary.
Also highlighting the need for innovation in legal training and the necessity of virtual hearings, the VP stated that “change is happening quickly all around us in every sphere of life. A sentimental clutching on to traditions will not serve us well. We have seen already that there is nothing sacrosanct about proceedings taking place in physical courtrooms. Virtual hearings are efficient and speedy.”
He commended States, including Lagos, that have embraced innovation and issued practice directions that permitted virtual proceedings during the pandemic lockdown, which he noted was “in line with the commitment the Chief Justice of Nigeria made recently to a full-scale digital revolution in the judiciary that would guarantee electronic filing of court processes, virtual hearings and delivery of judgments.”
Osinbajo specifically highlighted how the Supreme Court delivered some time-bound judgments by Zoom (video platform) during the recent strike by Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN) strike.
He said, “Aside from all the issues around moving firmly to clinical legal education and a more problem-solving teaching orientation, we must also decide the question of whether the Nigerian law school needs to be an in-person residential course or mostly online, including taking examinations online.
“Today it is becoming obvious that cramping thousands of students into a classroom for lectures at the law school is a suboptimal teaching and learning environment.”
He added that “even mock trials can be more effectively done online and courtroom processes can be put on videos and re-watched several times by students. Of course, we may still retain court and chamber attachments.”
Osinbajo further stressed that the legal profession needs to go a step further by institutionalizing these innovations, as the country’s justice delivery system, practice norms, and service levels must also show a propensity for innovation, growth and evolution.