The Chief Judge of the Federal Capital Territory, (FCT) Justice Hussein Baba-Yusuf, said both the high court and the magistrate courts in the Nigerian capital determined a total of 11,621 cases in the outgone legal year.
Of the number, the FCT High Court successfully determined 4,293 cases, comprising civil and criminal matters, representing an impressive overall completion rate of 62.4 per cent.
The CJ, who said the FCT courtrooms are being overstretched with cases while speaking at an event to mark the opening of its 2023/2024 legal year, said the Magistrate Courts successfully determined 7,328 cases, encompassing both civil and criminal matters, thereby achieving an outstanding completion rate of 90 percent.
“For the records, the FCT High Court officially commenced the 2022/2023 Legal Year on Monday, October 17, 2022. It brought forward a total number of 12,513 cases, encompassing both civil and criminal matters, from the preceding 2021/2022 Legal Year.
“Similarly, the Magistrate Court had 5,629 cases carried forward from the previous Legal Year.
“Moving on to the 2022/2023 Legal Year, the FCT High Court assigned 5,952 new cases, consisting of both civil and criminal matters, while the Magistrate Courts received 7,354 filings, also encompassing both civil and criminal cases.
“As the 2022/2023 Legal Year wound up, there were 13,996 pending cases, covering both civil and criminal matters, at the Magistrate Court.
Justice Baba-Yusuf, on Monday, bemoaned the lack of courtrooms for Magistrates to conduct cases within Abuja and its environs, stating that “currently, some of our Magistrates are sharing courtrooms.”
According to him, “The judiciary has both a legal and moral obligation to provide quality service to the public as provided by various constitutional provisions.
“This, in a way, enhances and engenders confidence in the courts and respect for the decisions coming out of them.”
He stressed that despite the fact that the FCT High Court has a total complement of 58 judges, yet, “the courts are being overstretched to its fullest elastic capacity in terms of caseload.”
“Of course, when courts are overloaded with cases, it can lead to several challenges, including delays in the legal process and potential strain on the judicial system.
“Creatively, the FCT High Court is adopting various means to address the situation.
“These include, amongst others, implementing efficient case management systems to streamline proceedings, including using e-filing to enhance efficiency; prioritizing old cases and urgent matters; encouraging parties to resolve disputes through mediation or arbitration, and settling cases through plea bargain mechanisms.
“We are also in the process of reviewing our Civil Procedure Rules to make for faster and less cumbersome adjudication processes.
“In a bid to promote competency and provide access to justice and quality service to the public, the FCT High Court introduced the e-affidavit platform and e-filing of court processes. This thrust is in line with developments in technology and the demands of our current age.
“There is no doubt that digitisation of the courts enhances transparency, accountability, effectiveness, efficiency, and accessibility of justice, and aids in the fight against corruption, among other advantages.
“The process of digitisation of the FCT courts will enter its next phase this legal year to effectively integrate a case management system. Our target is for the courts to go electronic and paperless.
“Virtual proceedings of courts will be encouraged. Virtual hearings entail hearings conducted where the presence of the parties and their Legal Practitioners is dispensed with.
“The focus of the court is on expediency and prompt resolution of matters. All stakeholders are required to cooperate and positively contribute to the success of the project.
“We urge all stakeholders to ensure that they invest in gadgets and procure adequate Internet facilities to sustain this electronic system of adjudication,” the CJ added.
“Our quest for an FCT Judiciary in which world-class justice prevails remains and will continue to be pursued with vigour.
“We will continue to perform our primary duties in hearing cases in different parts of the Territory as demanded by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
“Our goal is to uphold the principles of openness, transparency, and accessibility in administering justice. Our essential task is to make independent and impartial decisions on disputes brought before us for resolution and to serve the overall interest of justice.
“Even as we decide cases between parties, we also clarify the law for everyone. That is why people must understand how and why a given decision was reached.
“It is hard to have faith in a system if you do not understand how it works. This is why I believe it is so important for people to see in demonstrable clarity, how the justice system works,” the CJ further stated.
On its part, the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, through its National President, Yakubu Maikyau, SAN, said the new legal year should re-awaken the spirit of the judiciary to be reminded that decisions made today would mould the shape of the country tomorrow.
Maikyau, SAN, whose speech was read by the 2nd Vice President of the association, Clement Chukwuemeka, said: “The seed of Justice planted today shall germinate and mature for the eradication of hunger in our land tomorrow.
“The full implementation of the provision of law by our judges in exercising their constitutional responsibility today will go a long way in attracting direct foreign investment, stopping medical tourism, minimising the “JAPA” syndrome and in general the growth of our economy tomorrow.”