Temple Of Justice, Environment Of Injustice
For instance, a judge could send an unruly person within the courtroom to jail without any plea. With this in mind, many who visit courts or make use of the courtrooms, probably expect that the courtrooms and premises are aligned to that decorum it demands from them.
When The Guardian visited the Customary Court, Igando, Lagos, the facilities did not speak well of it as a centre of justice. Charcoal was used to write instructions on the walls. The court officers and judges sat on benches with no backrest and old fashion tables that best fit a local drinking joint. The witness box was more like a makeshift structure put together by an inexperience carpenter, who only bought disused woods to execute the jobs given to him.
The plastic chairs in the courtroom were donations.
The Magistrate Courts, Oshodi and Ikeja were a little bit better. Yet, there were broken chairs, table and dusty courtroom premises with some of the gadgets and fans not functioning. This is beside the court environment that looked unkempt.
Managing Partner, Blackfount Law Partnership, Olaniran Akintunde, Esq, told The Guardian that the state of most of the nation’s courts, especially the lower ones is appalling.
To him, this is due to systemic abandonment, especially since the judicial system does not take into account the need to manage its assets and maintain same.
“Instead, the entire system is solely based on dispensing justice within the court rooms, without a focus on the environment and the image of the temple of justice. The chief judge is the head of courts in every state. Meanwhile, the chief judge who is extremely busy with legal research, writing judgment and other intellectual task, is supposed to be in charge of ensuring that everything is well with the entire judicial system. It is very impossible.”
He further said that the state of the courtrooms is to say the least very shameful, portraying the supposed noble profession in a very bad light. According to him, those outside the profession would be disappointed, considering the great number of millionaires in the profession.
“One will also expect the senior advocates of Nigeria and other rich lawyers to pool their resources together to salvage the sorry situation. They owe the profession that has made them very successful a duty to intervene.
“I know from experience that among lawyers, we also lament over the shameful state of our court rooms. Sometimes, during court sessions, you see lawyers in their wigs and gowns sweating profusely due to heat in the courtrooms. It is very disgusting!”
He noted that the times the executive arm in any state is interested in constructing courtrooms or renovating the existing ones are when the sitting governor is a lawyer or the Attorney General is a very close friend of the governor.
“The executive arm usually expects the judiciary to embark on capital projects from its meagre allocation. That attitude is very wrong,” Akintunde argued.
A senior advocate, Paul Ananaba stated that the judiciary is an arm of government and should be seen and treated as such, just like the executive and legislature, and should not be seen as superior to the judiciary.
“It is true that many court premises and environment in Nigeria are not befitting, just as you observed. However, Lagos State courts environment on the average are commendable. So are the Federal High Court, Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court. It is important that the executive and the legislature place more emphasis on the improvement of court environment and infrastructure. These are essential components of the dignity of courts and tribunals.
Commenting on facilities in courts, Barrister Dipo Osinubi observed that the Fashola administration did tremendously well, especially in refurbishing some court premises and rooms.
According to him, before the Fashola regime, the courtrooms and environments were in a very bad shape, where sitting arrangements for lawyers was not a factor.
“Apart from dilapidated furniture, the roofs were leaking. At a stage, it was so in Lagos. Good enough, Fashola, being a lawyer, and as his primary constituency, we saw some visible changes in the court facilities, tremendous one for that matter. It is in his time that many courts were rebuilt; one that comes readily to mind is the Igbosere Court. The one that follows is the one that was recently commissioned in Ogba. We never knew that we are going to see these types of court facilities in our times. It is the best structure in the Lagos judiciary, structures with elevator. I have not even seen that in a Federal High Court.”
Osinubi, however, stated that his concern now is the maintenance of these facilities, since Fashola has left office. For him, though there is an improvement in the court facilities in Lagos State, that cannot be said of other states. “If you go to other states, even the high courts are like poultry farms. There were cases that the court had to adjourn or could not sit for so many weeks, because the roof caved in due to rain and the courtroom was flooded. There were cases like that in Lagos of the past and it is still happening in other states. So, the structures in Lagos State should be maintained.”
“So the environment has nothing to do with getting justice. They may not get justice but whatever emanates from that court is sacrosanct. As it is now, there is still some sanity.” Ironically, he, however, noted, “If you go to the court in Ogba that was recently renovated, you would feel that you have to respect whatever comes out of the court there. The environment is superb.”
Also sharing her thought on the issue, a legal practitioner, Adaobi Egboka noted that in Lagos State, there has been a lot of improvement in the facilities provided within and around courtrooms.
She said the improvement however, does not cater for people with challenges. “It is often said that access to justice is not just for specific people, it should be for everybody. Imagine if I am a person with challenge, perhaps hearing impairment or physically challenged, I cannot access our courts.
“That is one area so many things need to be done. There are no ramps; you cannot take witness of somebody with hearing impairment because nobody is there to interpret. It is an area the state government needs to do something about.
“Therefore, it means that there has not been thorough overhaul of the physical structures, because if it has been, the issue of ramp would have been provided for, making sure that every facility is in place to cater for all.”
For the layman, a court is a court whether manned by lawyers or non-lawyers. So because customary courts are not manned by lawyers, does it mean that they should not be having good facilities especially when visitors and those who come to the court for one business or reason are expected to maintain the same decorum in all courts, whether man by lawyers or not?
Egboka maintained that because customary courts are not manned by lawyers should not give room for poor provision of infrastructure because access to justice is access to justice anywhere it is got from.
“That is one of the things that affect the decisions that come from such courts, because when the people do not have trust in the judiciary system and they then walk into a place that is shabby, it increases the level of distrust in the system and the court, where they have come to seek justice. In terms of the physical outlook of the court, it is key, because you do not expect a judge who is sweating and uncomfortable to really think straight, even lawyers.”
She further stated that the customary court system needs not just physical overhaul but complete one because so many areas where they lack jurisdictions are brought to them and are entertained.
“So it is an area that the government needs to look into,” Egboka said.
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