Lawyers Back Supreme Court Judgment On Virtual Court Proceedings

Some Lagos-based lawyers on Tuesday said the Supreme Court decision on the constitutionality of virtual court proceedings was influenced more by the exigencies of the moment.

They said that virtual court hearing have become a necessity in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The lawyers made their views known in interviews with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN).

NAN reports that the Supreme Court on Tuesday struck out a suit filed by the Attorneys-General of Lagos and Ekiti states challenging the legality of virtual court sittings.

In an unanimous decision, a seven-man panel led by Justice Olabode Rhodes-Vivour held that as at today, virtual court sittings are not unconstitutional.

NAN reports that Lagos State attorney-general had asked the Supreme Court to determine whether, having regard to Section 36(1), (3) and (4) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), the use of technology by remote hearings of any kind, by the Lagos State High Court or any other courts in Nigeria in aid of hearing and determination of cases, is constitutional.

The Minister of Justice and the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) Abubakar Malami (SAN) had given a directive to the heads of courts at the federal and state levels to adopt virtual court sittings.

A lawyer, Mr Osuala Nwagbara, told NAN that virtual court procedure was not unconstitutional because the Constitution provided for an aggrieved persons to ventilate their rights through the courts and for accused persons to be given facilities to defend themselves.

He, therefore, said virtual court hearing was a procedural way to ventilate such rights.

Nwagbara added that such a process did not rob any one of the right to be heard either in support of his claim, complaint or defence.

“Virtual court hearing has, in fact, become a necessity in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“On the contrary, not to devise a safe court proceedings now will amount to shutting people out of their rights to ventilate their grievances or defend themselves,” Nwagbara said.

He also said that the process did not make a complainant a judge in his own cause.

According to him, the process follows the age-long tradition that an unbiased and independent umpire, a judge, sits and resolves disputes or complaints.

“Whichever way one looks at the virtual Court hearing procedure, it is not unconstitutional,” he said.

Another lawyer, Mr Chibuikem Opara, said, “I think the Supreme Court’s judgment was influenced more by the exigencies of the moment than the constitution.

“In any event, it is better to apply the law liberally than to insist on rigid and sometimes harsh interpretations that will only result in hardship.

“These are unusual times and rigidity to the interpretation of extant provisions will only bring more hardship.

“I strongly believe that there is need to amend the constitution to expressly embody the judgment.”

Mr Chris Ayiyi, also a lawyer, said that the judgement was based on the condition at hand.

He, however, said that the face value of the judgement was correct but the cost effectiveness of the virtual Court sitting was not considered.

Ayiyi said that the apex court should have considered the cost of virtual proceedings on ordinary people.

“To this end, if you don’t have money, you cannot pursue your legal right, if it is infringed on.

“A review of the judgement will come when we, as a people, start experiencing lopsided judgement,” he said