The President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), has said that his regime will continue to partner with the Judiciary in ensuring that it is financially independent.
This is as he said, to retain greater public confidence by Nigerians, the Judiciary must be independent of all forms of interference and must maintain the highest level of responsiveness, professional standards, and integrity.
Buhari, who was represented by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo (SAN), said this on Monday when delivering his keynote address at the opening ceremony of the 2021 biennial All Nigeria Judges’ Conference held at the Andrews Otutu Obaseki Auditorium of the National Judicial Institute, Mohammed Bello Centre, Abuja.
Speaking on judicial autonomy, Buhari said, “The Judiciary remains the last hope of the common man, it exercises powers that affect lives and liberties.
“A trusted, well-resourced and well-functioning Judiciary is therefore essential to the entrenchment of rule of law.
“To maintain this revered position, and retain greater public confidence by the citizens, the Judiciary must be independent of all forms of interference and must maintain the highest level of responsiveness, professional standards, and integrity.
“We will continue to partner with you in ensuring that the Judiciary is financially independent; and effectively and sustainably retains a preeminent position in the quality of jurists manning our courts and the jurisprudence that develops from their collective premier reasoning.”
The President noted that he is not unaware of the number of challenges slowing the pace of transformation in the administration of the justice system.
He said more needs to be done to strike a sound balance between a high level of productivity, the quality of judicial decisions, and careful consideration of cases.
He assured the Judiciary that his regime, through the Federal Ministry of Justice in collaboration with the National Judicial Council, has been working towards the resolution of some of the challenges the judiciary faces today.
“The Development of strategic infrastructure that will provide ease in case management, including electronic recording of proceedings to replace the tedious longhand recording currently practised in the majority of our courts.
“Advancements in courtroom technology (E-Court systems) have increased the level of efficiency in the justice system in the areas of speed of documentation, accuracy, security, and accessibility of records.
“Enhanced welfare of judicial officers, especially in the area of conditions of service–salaries, allowances, and retirement benefits for Judicial Officers. Provision of comprehensive medical insurance,” the President said.
Buhari lamented the delayed dispensation of justice; a lingering cause for concern among citizens.
“As My Lords are aware, delay in the dispensation of justice coupled with the increase in the number of cases in our courts have remained subjects of grave concern. As someone said, ‘our problem is not access to justice it is exiting the justice system.’
“And I know that delays are not necessarily the fault of judges, lawyers are often responsible.
“Should we not then, as has been suggested by some, evolve a cost-award system that recognizes the court as a finite and expensive public resource? And as such delays and other dilatory tactics are visited with deterrent costs?” he queried.
He noted that Nigeria is part of the global marketplace for investment and legal services. Therefore, the extent to which she can attract business depends in part upon investor perception of the quality of her justice delivery system.
“If we are seen as inefficient and ineffective, we would lose out to more efficient systems,” he warned.
Also, the President noted the swift response of the judiciary to the pandemic-imposed constraints.
He said as Covid-19 safety protocols became obligatory, “Practice Directions were issued by several courts for remote hearing of cases, electronic filing of court processes, service of hearing notices via email addresses and mobile phone numbers of counsel, and e-payment of filing fees; with relevant devices installed.
“These innovative approaches have, in addition to ensuring compliance with the Covid-19 protocols, ensured that the wheels of justice continued to move unhindered–in some cases even faster than what was obtained during physical hearings.”
He added that speed, efficiency, and effectiveness were attained. It aided in the decongestion of cases, did away with the obsolete method of physical filing, and ensured structured use of both judicial and administrative time and resources.
“Travel time to-and-from the court for litigants, counsel, and witnesses was no longer an issue, effectively minimizing the need for adjournments.
“I believe that a universal application of these approaches across the country will greatly enhance access to and speedy dispensation of justice,” he said.