APPRAISAL OF JUDICIAL REFORMS TOWARDS AN EFFICIENT ADMINISTRATION OF JUSTICE IN NIGERIA

Diploma

ABSTRACT

Certain reforms had been put in place to address Nigeria’s quest towards an efficient administration of justice in the country. The reason for this quest is because there is the problem of undue delay in determining cases as a result of the legal processes being usually very slow and complex. Two major reforms carried out with the aim of addressing this problem had been the passing into law of the Administration of criminal justice Act (ACJA) 2015, and the Evidence Act 2011. In many instances, these laws had shown innovations that make for speedy disposal of cases at least when compared to their previous kindred legislations. The Administration of criminal justice Act (ACJA) 2015 for instance, merged the provisions of the two principal legislations governing criminal procedure in Nigeria; the Criminal Procedure Act (CPA) and the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC) into one principal federal Act which is intended to apply uniformly in all federal courts across the entire Federation and in respect of federal offences. The Act preserves the existing criminal procedures, but also introduces new innovative provisions. As one practical example amongst several discussed in this work, the Act clearly provides that trial of a defendant is to proceed from day-to day until the conclusion of the trial. This is clearly a new and innovative attempt to ensure speedy criminal trials. While the Act yet builds upon the existing framework of criminal justice administration in the country, it however, filled the gaps observed in these laws over the course of several decades. The Evidence Act 2011, on the other hand, repealed the old Evidence Act, Cap E14 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004, which was basically the same with the Evidence Act 1943 which came into force on 1st June, 1945. The justice administrative system in the country got a big boost with the coming into operation of this Act which amongst other innovations as discussed in the research, makes the coast clear for the admission of digital and electronic evidence. The days are gone when such would be rejected on accounts that their admissibility were not provided for under the law. The research adopts both a doctrinal and teleological approach to research in analysing all the issues discussed in the research work. As observed by the researcher, notwithstanding these innovations, there are still noticeable areas of both prospects and challenges for justice administration in Nigeria. The prospects in Information and Communication Technology (I.C.T) to enhance an efficient justice administration cannot be denied. Certain delays or inconveniencies in the justice administrative system can be addressed using I.C.T. Similarly the challenge posed by Legal Pluralism, which exist as a result of the introduction of British laws into Nigeria to co-exist with the indigenous systems of customary and Islamic Laws, thereby producing a tripartite system of laws with all its complications, needs to be addressed. As posited by the researcher, what is both necessary and desirable to address this challenge is the need for a deliberate aim, especially at the national level, to foster the eventual harmonization of the principles of English Common Law and statutes with those of locally enacted laws and of Customary Law/Islamic Law into a general law for the whole country. The researcher concludes by recommending that as the society keeps changing at dazzling pace, the National Assembly must constantly review and update the laws. This is because we may soon find ourselves lagging seriously behind again, where reforms carried out no longer meet the needs of present or future realities of justice administration..

Background to the Study

Nigeria, like many other countries of the world usually undertake legal and judicial reforms as efforts geared towards their overall development programs. The reason for this is also quite obvious. Nigeria finds herself in a situation where her judiciary advance inconsistent case law and carry a large backlog of cases. The resulting implication is the eroding of individual and property rights and by implication, the stifling of the private sector and its growth. There is ultimately also, violation of human rights. Delay in justice delivery affects fairness and the efficiency of the judicial system.  This is also acting as an impediment to the public's access to courts, which, in effect, weakens democracy, the rule of law and the ability to enforce human rights or even economic interest.

One of the ways of evaluating an effective justice delivery system is by the number of cases that it manages to dispose off and the time taken and even the process involved. The Nigerian judiciary reputed to be the last hope of the common man, crumbles under the weight of a heavy caseload. The criminal justice system in the country endures prolonged delay in the administration of justice. There is also the congestion of courts with inadequate infrastructure, the congestion of prisons with daily influx of either accused persons or suspects awaiting trial with several instances of arrest and detention for unduly lengths of time even before trial or conviction. A cardinal principle of justice under the Nigerian legal system is the presumption that a person accused of any crime is innocent until proven guilty. However, the continued incarceration of an accused person without speedy trial questions the claims to observance of fundamental rights of liberty and fair hearing.

In the context of judicial reform programs, some measures have been taken to reduce the duration of the litigation process by identifying avoidable sources of delay, which tend to slow down and even halt proceedings unnecessarily. Such reform include repealing or amending some laws that have probably lost touch with present reality and enacting of new ones that can meet the needs of the ever-changing socio-economic conditions. It is true that there have been some reforms in the Nigerian judiciary. This for example had led to some changes in the Civil Procedure Rules of most courts, passing into law of the new Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015 and Evidence Act 2011. 

The necessity of such reforms is obvious. The truth is that no combat against corruption for instance or crimes such as terrorism, now plaguing the nation can be said to be credible or complete without an effective and robust judicial system that is to be relied on. It is only such properly administered judicial system with speedy capability of guaranteeing individual rights and freedoms, as well as protecting victims from the arbitrary exercise of power while punishing criminals, that is an essential catalyst for good governance and uplifting the socio-economic wellbeing of the nation and her citizens. Everyone, everywhere in Nigeria should enjoy the equal, but also speedy protection of the law if there is to be both justice for all and meaningful development.