Job Osazuwa and Romanus Okoye
Right now, everyone is fast exploring and embracing technology and utilising its immense benefits. These days, the world seems to have shifted to the online platform, with most activities conducted virtually to save time, energy and money.
As Nigeria accepts the reality of COVID-19 and, if the country must achieve speedy delivery of justice and other legal services, many are insisting that the judiciary should not be left behind in the digital train.
In charting the way forward, stakeholders in the profession, at a two-day virtual conference recently, x-rayed all that is needed to be done in order for Nigerians to enjoy purpose-built technology solutions for the court and administration of justice system to accelerate access to justice.
Even before the deadly coronavirus came to disrupt the normal way of life, there have been complaints over the slow pace of adjudication of justice in Nigeria. Reportedly, there have been cases that ought to have been concluded in weeks, but which lingered on for years. On many occasions, petitioners or the accused have died in the process while waiting for justice to be delivered.
Pundits have kicked against what they described as unnecessary delays in handling court cases. Perturbed by the unhealthy development, they, as well as many other concerned Nigerians, have restated the need for the judiciary to be overhauled. They have continued to canvass that all practitioners in the third arm of government must be knowledgeable of technology, as the government plays its part in order to enhance productivity and efficiency, particularly in the interest of both the rich and the poor.
No wonder, when the opportunity came up at the conference, which was organised by LawPavilion Business Solutions Limited, in collaboration with Telnet Group, the lecturers left no stone unturned as they wanted to say all that needed to be said even with the limited time given to each of them. It was an avenue to call everyone in the occupation and governments at all levels to wake up from their seeming slumber to reposition the judiciary so that it could truly reflect the last hope of the common man.
As one of the keynote speakers at the virtual conference, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo (SAN) said that there was no better time to push for purpose-built technology solutions for the court and administration of justice system than now.
Despite the diverse lapses in the system, the erudite lawyer and Professor of Law expressed excitement at the willingness and rapid adoption of technology exemplified by the Supreme Court in giving its stamp of approval to virtual court sittings. He also drew attention to the fact that technology has aided the democratisation of law and justice in Nigeria. He called for more solutions in this dimension for the administration of justice in Nigeria by legal and technology companies in the country. He pledged that the Federal Government would continue to be committed to supporting indigenous tech-companies to adapt to the new global realities powered by artificial intelligence (AI) and sophisticated technology solutions.
He expressed the optimism that the judiciary would not deviate from dispensing justice, even in the face of daunting challenges. But he called on all stakeholders to play their part in becoming a global reference point for equity and uncompromised justice. He also believes that Nigerians have critical roles to play by cooperating with lawyers and judges for a saner society.
In a goodwill message, Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Tanko Muhammad, said that the conference was timely, stressing that the important role that technology now occupies in provision of legal services and administration of justice in Nigeria could not be over-emphasised.
Muhammad alluded to the giant strides that had been taken by the apex court in recent years by adopting the use of court management software, demonstrating a marked departure from the analogue system of adjudication. He reiterated the support of the judiciary in adopting new technologies that accelerate the delivery of justice to Nigerians.
One of the major activities at the conference was the virtual unveiling of E-Library of the Laws of Lagos State on the LawPavilion platform by Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu of Lagos State, represented by the Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice in the state, Mr. Moyo Onigbanjo SAN.
Another important event at the conference was the unveiling of the LawRights App, a solution from the stables of LawPavilion, built for the public to know and understand their constitutional rights, as well as have access to lawyers and law firms. It was explained that from the app and where necessary, the public could initiate a process of adjudication where rights have been abused or trampled upon.
On his part, the immediate past President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Paul Usoro, SAN, pointed out that accessing justice and upholding the rule of law would remain a mirage where the average citizen is ignorant of his rights under the law. He added that it remains a tall order when most Nigerians are deprived of widespread access to regulatory bodies and government agencies that could ensure that the rights of citizens are not trampled upon.
He, therefore, commended the newly launched LawRights App and described it as a ground-breaking solution for Nigerians, including stakeholders, in the administration of justice and legal services industries.
it was further explained that working in collaboration with the Law Reform Commission of Lagos State, the e-library platform would make the laws easily accessible and relevant for the use of Lagosians and others. The annotated e-laws on the platform highlight how the courts and populace interact with the laws, leveraging on machine learning and artificial intelligence. This approach will ensure that new laws and decisions of the court are data-driven, with its finger on the pulse of the citizenry.
Focusing on young Nigerians, CEO of Paradigm Initiatives, Gbenga Sesan, pointed out that using technology to accelerate access to justice would pave the way for transparency and further boost people’s confidence in the legal system especially as the country adjusts to the realities of the pandemic.
While he cited several examples of interaction with law enforcement agencies which ended in wanton abuse of the human rights and dignity of the affected victims, he advocated a rapid adoption of a law that enshrines the digital rights of citizens. He believes that Nigeria could become a leader among other African countries in this regard.
He quickly pointed out that innovation could not thrive in an environment where justice is stifled and rights are trampled upon with impunity. He advocated practical demonstration of justice in the protection of rights, especially digital rights.
During the panel discussion, in responding to how ready the Nigerian judiciary was in adapting technology as needed in a post COVID-19 environment, Justice Olukayode Ariwoola, submitted that the Nigerian judiciary has demonstrated and continues to demonstrate a willingness to adopt technologies, in a bid to ensure that delivery of justice is not delayed or hampered.
Also contributing, Babatunde Ajibade stated that while there wasn’t yet a national consensus about the adoption of technology, there should be more thinking about how technology could be harnessed to facilitate the delivery of justice, with the corresponding financial and human resources investments required. He pointed out that there were still significant pockets of technologically challenged members of the Bar and the Bench.
Analysing whether the legal service and judiciary were walking the talk in matters of using technology to enhance and improve delivery of services, the Managing Director of Telnet Group, Mr. Folorunsho Aliu, said that the sector and Nigeria was getting better on how technology is used and harnessed for justice and economic growth. He strongly believed that the ideas that would emerge from the conference would be instrumental towards more widespread adoption of legal technology in Nigeria.
In another session, Sesan Sobowale of Union Bank Legal Department, and his counterpart, Raymond Mgbeokwere of First Bank, shared insights about the deployment of bespoke LawPavilion Case Management Solution for legal departments, to automate the administration and coordination of their legal teams.
The former Attorney General of Oyo State, Mr. Seun Abimbola, spoke of his experience in running a government department and stated that bespoke legal technologies solutions were the way forward in meeting the competing demands on the legal department or law office, particularly in this pandemic.
Speaking on whether the legal ecosystem is an evolution or a revolution, the publisher of ESQ Magazine, Lere Fashola, contributed that the eco-system was both an evolution. He said COVID-19 had altered how people interact and do businesses, thereby necessitating the adoption of virtual court hearings and progressive use of several technology platforms to provide services to clients.
There were other engaging discussions, including a session displaying e-filing and court management processes and solutions, aimed at accelerating case management of the entire court system. The private sector was not left out as the conference showcased pieces of new and existing solutions within the industry and in the areas of digital transformation.