L-R: Ebelechukwu Enedah, Partner PUNUKA, Hon Justice Alaba Omolaye-Ajileye of Kogi State Judiciary, Hon Justice Mosunmola Dipeolu, Chief Judge, Ogun State Judiciary, Hon Justice Bonaventure Mbewe of High Court of Zambia and Hon Justice O. Mabekoje of Ogun State Judiciary

By Ed Malik, A | November 18, 2022

Resource stakeholders in the Judicial have added their voice to the imperative of embracing time-saving technologies and have called for adequate training of judicial personnel across board in order to adopt to adopt processes of online and virtual court hearings.

The call was made at a two-day workshop on Electronic Evidence and Imperative for Online Court Hearing”, held in Abeokuta, the Ogun State capital, which was organized by Attorney General Alliance – Africa (AGA-Africa) in conjunction with the Ogun State Government.

The organizers and attending stakeholders at the workshop agreed that embracing the use of modern information delivery technologies would fast track the dispensation of justice and help to deepen the relevant innovations that will promote real-time administration of the justice system.

The workshop which was attended by judges, court registers, lawyers and other judicial personnel, received experiential lectures from leading legal resources in Africa, including Justice Bonaventure Mbewe from Zambia, Chief Anthony Idigbe, a renowned lawyer and Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Justice Eniola Fabamwo, an Ogun State High court judge and Justice Alaba Omolaye-Ajileye, among others.

Justice Mbewe, in his lecture, opined that the adoption of virtual court hearing cannot be over-emphasized here in Nigeria and indeed, Africa, stressing the need for collaboration among African countries to share knowledge and experi on digitalization of court proceedings.

He said, “We need to engage our judicial workers more in training on how to use these equipment, let us embrace the technologies, let us teach ourselves, because they are not going to go away.

“Virtual hearings are here to stay, the sooner we embrace them, the better the administration of justice will become.

“I encourage Nigeria to learn as much as you can from other jurisdictions. I encourage my you my brother and sister judges to talk among yourselves on how you can improve, how you can deploy technologies to assist you in this area.

“I believe the first thing that Nigeria can do is to interact more with other jurisdictions to learn from what others are doing.

“Virtual trial is a phenomenon everywhere, it is the way to go, it will speed hearings and eliminate unnecessary adjournments and face-to-face court processes.

“To go virtual way in court proceedings is possible, but it is not something that can be done in a day, we can start small and then build on whatever we have.

“It is implementable, in my view within the next three to five years, we should all be there where we can say we are dispensing justice virtually.”

The chief host, who’s also the Chief Judge of Ogun State, Justice Mosunmola Dipeolu said, the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic had forced many judges in Nigeria to adopt online court hearing.

She said, “In today’s world, modern technology such as electronic case management system, electronic data management system, e-filing, e- service. e- payment, case tracking systems are deployed to reduce backlog of cases and reduce the menace of delays in the courts.

“Ogun State Judiciary is also one of the state’s Judiciary that has embraced, developed and instituted some of these concepts.

“The Ogun State Judiciary E- registry which comprises of e- filing, e-payment, e-service, e-probate is set. However, I must say that lawyers have not really keyed into electronic filing. I know the concept of change can be difficult but it must be embraced.

“IT Justice has come to stay, we therefore must prepare ourselves as Judges and being the major key player in the justice delivery system, to work with the concept of e-justice towards a transparent and effective justice delivery system. The goal is to be better at what we do and we must not lose focus of that.

“Consequently, trainings of this nature is essential towards achieving the goal of a better justice sector which is technologically supported and driven.

“The cyberspace is a large web world that is constantly growing, we need every skill that we can acquire to navigate it. This is particularly so with the growing concept of what electronic documents are. The courts still face challenges with regards to treatment of electronically generated documents with regards to definitions, genuineness, reliability and admissibility”.

In his own contribution, Chief Anthony Idigbe, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) called on both the Federal and State governments to make huge investments in technologies for the full adoption of virtual court hearings but however, warned that necessary safety checks be put in place to reduce cyber security risk during virtual court proceedings.

Speaking to journalists on the sideline of the event, Ebelechukwu Enedah, a partner at Punuka Attorneys and Solicitors, stressed the need for the judiciary system to go digital so as to decongest the correctional facilities in the country.

She said: “If we are to adopt online court hearing, bail applications can be held virtually, so there will be no need to bring the suspects standing trials to court to take their plea, they can actually stay in the correctional facilities and with video conferencing, the judge is able to take their plea.

“If we adopt online court hearing, we will have a rapid decongestion of our prison facilities”, she said.

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