Several lawyers and litigants say that the idea of a virtual court sitting is a laudable initiative that will ensure quick dispensation of justice.
They were speaking in separate interviews with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN).
According to Abdulwahab Daudu, following long months of lockdown occasioned by the COVID-19, without virtual court sitting, “a lot of people will still be in detention awaiting judgment or a date for hearing of their case.”
Mr Daudu buttressed his point, saying, “I have a client who has benefitted from this as he got judgment via the virtual sitting by Justice Ijeoma Ojukwu if not we will probably still be on his case particularly as she has been transferred out of Abuja.
“My client is now a free man all thanks to the judgment delivered via the virtual court sitting so I cannot criticise it at all,” the lawyer added.
For an Abuja-based lawyer, Noah Ajare, virtual proceedings are the norm these days. “The Supreme Court in Nigeria and the U.S. and the global international community have come to accept virtual hearing as the acceptable legal practice,” he said.
According to Mr Ajare, “We have so many practice directions and judgments that support virtual hearing,” urging the courts to adopt virtual proceedings more to reduce their workload, “particularly in matters that are not so contentious.”
He said this should not be limited to the trial courts but the appellate courts as well. “It is the way to go; it is the future of litigation and practice world over and Nigeria should not be left behind. It should be accepted, it should be welcomed and we should improve on it.”
Marshall Yakubu argues that the virtual court sitting was long overdue and would stop prison officials from using the excuse of logistics not to bring inmates to court.
“Sometimes it is frustrating when we the counsel comes to court and then the custodians do not bring your client and they use ‘logistics’ as an excuse. With the virtual sitting, they can be in the custodial centre and have their cases heard and judgment delivered,” he said.
However, Annette Bahago, argues that the virtual court sitting was a bit premature considering that the National Assembly has yet to amend the constitution to capture it.
“It is a good idea, but my worry is that since there is no constitutional provision for it yet, I hope we won’t have a situation where judgments delivered by virtual court sittings would be declared a nullity if eventually the amendment is not carried.
“I am also concerned about those in the correctional centres, will the centres provide good network for the proceedings to be seamless? These are some of the issues that need to be addressed before I will be comfortable supporting it 100 per cent,” she said.
However, in a suit filed by Lagos and Ekiti, the Supreme Court ruled that nothing at the moment made virtual proceedings and sitting by courts null, void and unconstitutional, stating “As at now, virtual sitting is not unconstitutional.”
Delivering judgment, a seven-man panel of the apex court led by Justice Bode Rhodes-Vivour held that it was premature for Lagos and Ekiti States to file suits seeking interpretation of the constitution to determine whether virtual court proceedings and sitting were constitutional or not.
In the suit, the Lagos and Ekiti state governments prayed 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, whether by Zoom, Microsoft Teams, WhatsApp, Skype or any other audiovisual or video-conference platform by the Lagos State High Court or any other courts in Nigeria in aid of hearing and determination of cases was constitutional.
The court directed judges across the country to continue conducting virtual proceedings, where it was comfortable for them, until the National Assembly concluded its ongoing efforts to amend the constitution to accommodate virtual hearing.