COVID-19 and Justice

A couple of days ago, we started the BC|AC Conversations, where we explore our daily lives and what was our modus operandi before the COVID-19 and how people are adjusting and what is most likely going to be the life we will unconsciously get used to post COVID-19.

On Monday, the President Muhammad Buhari’s administration announced its plans for the Justice sector in Nigeria after COVID-19. This was contained in an action plan made by Abubakar Malami, the Attorney-General of the Federation and the Minister of Justice.

With businesses holding strategy sessions on the best ways to proceed in spite of the virus, it is more so for some government agencies who are designated as essential to the very balance of a society, the justice department being one. Let us for a minute imagine that the virus is here longer than anyone expects; it is impossible to imagine the level of chaos that will take hold of our Nation. There are not only cases that are time sensitive and require quick court deliberations, there are matters that need to be quickly resolved, negotiations and contracts hinging on millions all on hold.

Before the virus, the judicial system in Nigeria has been one riddled with a major problem of the length of time it takes to dispense justice. We all are aware of the popular saying “Justice delayed is justice denied”. Juxtapose that on the premise that delayed justice has led to the congestion of prisons, violation of human rights and more criminals left to go scot free without being punished for flouting the laws of the land. The financial implication of delayed justice is unquantifiable.

On the 24th of March, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammed directed courts in the country to suspend sittings from Tuesday, March 24 for an initial period of two weeks due to the pandemic nature of the coronavirus. However, it is becoming obvious that we must find ways to function even with the threat of the Virus and ensure that our normal lives have some semblance of structure and more so for the society to maintain law and order.

Given the challenges of the Nigerian justice system, we begin to ask questions like what matters will the judicial courts categorize as priority for now? Cases such as common assault, low-level travel offences, criminal damages, fraud etc are currently matters that may not seem overly important but form some of the basis of our daily lives.

The Attorney-General stated recently that the “application of technology is not strange to our justice sector/judicial system and reiterated that the Nigerian Justice sector must seriously leverage technology in the improvement of its capacity and for facilitating fair and speedy administration of justice. He went on to say many cases will be handled online or without a face to face interaction leveraging on the use of technology”.

Without delving into the workings of the judicial system, there are advantages to see at a literal level arising from a paradigm shift in its operations due to the COVID-19 situation. What this means is a judge can try a case without having to be in the same physical location with the legal representative or even plaintiff. This not only ensures speedy processes and judgments, it allows for a more transparent and documented legal proceedings, reduced legal fees and so much benefits that does not readily come to mind. Is COVID-19 charting the course for a more reformed justice sector in Nigeria?

Do not forget, as businesses and individuals keep strategizing on the way forward, do not focus on the challenges of now; there are pathways that will no doubt lead to the road we want to travel. We must open up ourselves to the possibilities of evolving especially during these times.

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