Paperless Court Room

I have a dream of a revolution in the judicial system, but first, let me tell you what took me to sleep.

Have you read through the CV of a new wig in search of a job? The most outstanding qualification they highlight is Computer literate. This is not only limited to new wigs but also all post 2000 graduates who at the turn of the millennium were forced to include “Y2k compliant” in their lexicon.

It is most interesting in the case of lawyers, when one considers the high school fees at the Nigerian Law School. The authority has insisted that because of “wiring” the campus and other fancy electronic gadgets, the parents of would be lawyers should bleed out the school fees. The authority cares less that despite this financial burden, a good number of students will compound it by failing Bar Finals.

Furthermore, out of what seems like the infantile naivety of the ICT modus-operandi, the authority thinks mere provision of internet services and reduction of Bar Finals synopsis into a compact disc and the use of projector makes the campus Y2k compliant, all the lawyers belched out computer literate and ICT compliant.

The world has shrunk into a global village or as Friedman Thomas will insist, “the world is flat”. Nigeria is yet to come to terms with this reality. It is agreed that law is the fulcrum upon which the society rotates and law school is the breeding ground for the “engineers” of social change, but the tools for this social engineering in Nigeria, are obsolete and ill-fitted for the task ahead.

For the Nigerian lawyer to be ICT compliant, the fundamental books of our trade have to be updated/reprinted to meet the current demands of our scientifically – minded clients. The Evidence Act should be repealed and a new one codified to take care of e-mails, fax, cell phone and other cyber tech generated evidence; section 2 of EA’s definition of facts should be broadened to cater for the new social order. Leaving the interpretation of Section 2 and its admissibility to the judge is dangerous to the development of ICT and the Law.

With due respect, most judges are conservative and stick to the old order of manual typewriter. There is need for re-education of the bench, and the Bar, for it will be a sad day for Lawyers, when a client realizes he is more attune to cyber legal issues than a lawyer.

E-business is fast gaining ground but our laws on banking are static. A man can withdraw/ deposit from any branch but when suing; the law requires the plaintiff to sue the branch where the account is domiciled.

The embattled EFCC has browbeaten most sound  lawyers into blunders as a result of their limited understanding of lawyers of Cyber Crime (Lawyer). Once EFCC touts Interpol, their cooperation with CIA, FBI and other agencies, the average Nigerian lawyer is cowed, and cannot unravel jurisdiction and proper parties to the action.

Recently, Jambites, used SMS messages to cheat in UME. The Lady Justice eyes’ should be opened if not totally unveiled; a pinhole into the ICT world will do. Criminally minded citizens have seen into the future and are using ICT state- of-the-art to beat the system. The yahoo yahoo boys are merely picked up by EFCC and coaxed into confession. The law must be proactive and use ICT to provide succor to those denied their right by criminal/ fraudulent manipulation of ICT.

The state judiciaries are not helping matters. In a bid to justify the international funds gotten, in the twilight of Justice Uwais CJN, as he then was, courts were provided with microphones, tape recorders, computers etc. these devices were provided interalia, to fast track the judicial process.

Apart from Lagos High Court (Igboshere), I am yet to see any court wherein these expensive devices are working. A selective chat with staff of court revealed that most of the clerks are electro- illiterates. The lawyers are not better off.

This illiteracy among lawyers have led to heavy reliance and patronizing of business centers. With this, no client’s file is confidential as the contents produced in a business centre, are stored in the hardware. Furthermore, these business centres operators having these in their system, can print out all forms and documents. A good example is Anbeez Plaza at Wuse Zone 5, behind CAC. Not only can they mass-produce memos, some can by merely adding and deleting, spin out court processes from filing to judgment.

This was my experience in Lafia High Court, Nasarawa state. A court order was produced at a business centre. The court clerk’s explanation being that there was no electricity and the generator attached to the CJ’s court was not working. It is not peculiar to Lafia, even in Kubwa, Abuja, I witnessed same. At the Imo State High Court, Orlu Road, it is a ritual that the court is always out of files and there is nowhere to photocopy or print, except at a business centre located inside the NBA common room. A cross section of lawyers interviewed, laid the blame squarely at the footstool of the NBA. NBA is accused of not taking the interests of her members to heart especially the new wigs. Their counterpart in the medical field starts protecting its members from NYSC orientation camp making sure no doctor is posted to teach. There is also a basic salary structure for NYSC doctors. The wages of new wigs in law firms are not encouraging and as the cliché goes, man must wak, hence the recourse to business centres, as the cost of a computer is one- year salary of an average junior in chamber.

At the Jos Bar conference in 2005, the NBA’s mantra was reforms. I clearly pointed out in my article: The NBA In Dire Need OF Reforms, Takaii Magazine, October – December 2005 edition, that it is not only political reform that the NBA should be internally reformed and see to it that the welfare of juniors are taken care of and ICT literacy encouraged. Two years after, nothing has been done, rather practicing and other revenue generated by NBA is been used to organize talk shows that do not improve a lawyer.

I was at an NBA meeting at Sheraton Hotel Abuja – Nigerian Bar Association Summit on the Future Of Legal Education in Nigeria 2nd -3rd May, 2006. One of the participants rightly said “we need to re-position the legal profession to meet the challenges of the 21st century. The profession must strengthen its capacity to produce lawyers who are capable of meeting the human resources need of the country in the emerging fields of law and technology, e- commerce, bio-technology law…” or the Nigerian lawyer to be ICT compliant beyond video games, NBA should make a concerted effort to level the playing field. ICT is not all about carrying Blueberrys and joysticks but effectively employing same in the course of the tirade.

I have a dream of the day when ICT will be employed in the courtroom. A day when I will not have to travel 64 kilometres to court only to be told that “we are not sitting today, please take a date off record.” I look forward to the day when matters will not be delayed because PW, is outside jurisdiction and will require 3 working days to be in court.

The days are already here. I do not see why Nigeria should not be the torch bearer in Africa towards effectively marrying ICT with the Judicial Process. It made news when Adams Oshiomoie brought in forensic machines in his election petition against Prof. Osunbo (a lawyer). The use of forensic evidence is not news, the Evidence Act provides for it but how many lawyers have given it teeth? The instruments to speedy trials are here. With video conferencing, witnesses outside jurisdiction can testify and the court will merely watch “TV” and record. This saves the laborious long handwriting.

The days are here, all you have to do is log on to www.abaiaudicianq/zuba/ (your case no) and it will pop up on your laptop, whether court is sitting on the return date. It would also give you an update of the matter. This electronic tracking will reduce personal contact with the judiciary staff. This will reduce inducement of judicial staff and corruption. The issue of no Affidavit or Proof of Service in a case file will be eliminated.

The days of e-books are here. All you have to do is, subscribe to www.nwlrnqr. and the judgment / ratio you are looking for will unfold and his Lordship will read. The cumbersome carrying of dog-eared books and at times cockroach infested pre- Lord Lugard authority should be made away with.

The days are here, where time will not be wasted visiting the locus. A graphic digital reconstruction of crime scenes can be set up in court, the characters stimulated in accordance with police investigation. Where accused denies, his own statement will be fed into the system and see if it fits. Wow! Simple logic and all will see how credible the police investigation or accused testimony is.
This is the era of a new world order. The Nigeria lawyer should not be left in the woods. He should be imbued with the latest technology in human interaction to enable him develop a high sense of social consciousness so as to be able to contribute meaningfully to societal progress.
® Oracle with Che Oyinatumba Leadership Weekend January 5,2008

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