DELAYS IN LITIGATION: A SIMPLE ELIXIR
Jermaine Thornton died in 2005 from grievous bodily injuries inflicted on him by officials of the Drug control agency in the country. The deceased’s family decided to take a civil action against the agency. As I write, the claimant has not closed his case. More than twelve (12) years! The truth is, nobody is perplexed any longer. Litigation has become a trademark snail of judicial disrepute. It has emerged the easiest frustration of the common man. Lamentation must only last for a short while. Why do we not simply identify the issues first?
Appearances are announced at each trial date. The first witness is called upon for examination-in-chief. This singular process takes at least, one trial date. Some contentious ones involving unending objections and replies, after which a ruling is given by the court takes up to three adjournment dates. Examination-in-chief of each witness must be done at a slow pace, infact, extremely slow pace, because the trial judge is taking notes in long-hand. Cross-examinations follow a very similar pattern particularly the aspect of time-consumption. In some cases, re-examinations are allowed and take time too just because ‘my Lord is taking note’. This happens for each witness called upon to testify, willingly or by subpoena.
This process appears smooth on paper but is dreadfully time-predating. Then, one of the very worst happens. The judge is transferred from one jurisdiction to the other. The trial is to begin de novo. Alternatively, an application for fiat is made to the Chief Judge of the trial court (as the case may be) to permit the transferred judge to continue with the trial of the matter, at any expense, time and finance most notably inclusive. I will desist from making further sketches of the time-devouring judicial system we have in this part of the world. The focus here is the prescription of a viable elixir to this menace of avoidable time wastage.
In truth, the value of observing the countenance of each testifying witness at the trial cannot be swept under the carpet. The weight of justice and fairness attached to taking down comprehensive notes on occurrences during the trial process is invaluable. However, modernity and civilization dictate that we find a way to make laws for our common good and progress and not in ‘wrestlemania’ and contamination of the streams of justice. Justice rushed is surely justice crushed. But this never overrules the fact that justice delayed is justice denied. Witnesses die, get missing and untraceable, and/or become sullen and disinclined towards giving testimonies in court. This becomes commonplace where litigation is allowed to take a life time.
Please, who says there can be no Closed-Circuit Television (CCTV) in our courtrooms to ensure that the countenance of witnesses is monitored closely while video records are diligently stored? Please who has declared that the courtroom is immune to computer systems and projectors handled by skilled, fast and accurate computer gurus employable by our judiciary? Why is it not possible for a computer clerk to type every word of counsel, witness and the judge (or amicus curiae) on a computer system while same is simultaneously projected in the courtroom? What is/are that/those factor(s) that make transfer of judges inexorably compelling at the fatal expense of justice and fairness? These are questions that must be answered frankly. Whether Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) becomes lucrative and overarching can and will never extirpate the importance of courtroom litigation. Some cases just ultimately have to pay visits there for much-needed redress. These visits must not metamorphose into imprisonment for life. There must be an end to litigation. This end must strap to its back and entire body, justice and manifest justice. Gentlemen of the largest Bar in Africa, the state of litigation in Nigeria is saddening and tearful. But let us never fail to see while we cry.
Olukolade O. Ehinmosan,
Aspiring Legal Practitioner firstname.lastname@example.org
The character of Jermaine Thornton is purely fictional. The legal situation is however real. The writer can be reached for details.