Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babatunde Fashola (SAN) has charged law officers in Nigeria to restrict themselves to their areas of specialization when accepting briefs from clients in order to minimize delays in discharging cases at the courts.
Governor Fashola who was speaking at a one-day Law Conference held at the City Hall in Lagos, said the major reason there are delays in court processes in the nation’s courts was the issue of those he described as ‘non- trial lawyers’ accepting cases and going to court to handle such cases, adding that the result of such situations was unnecessary adjournments.
Fashola compared the situation with what obtains in other professions, arguing that just as in the medical profession where a practitioner who is not a surgeon cannot go into the theatre, a non-trial lawyer would only be a nuisance in a trial court as he would be lost before a trial judge.
“How many of us really are trial lawyers and how many of us admit that they are not trial lawyers and still go to court? Because it is not every medical practitioner that is a surgeon, so some of those clear distinctions must be made”, the Governor said, charging participants at the on-going conference to “at least ventilate if not resolve the issue”.
Commenting on the argument that solicitors should be separated from barristers, Fashola noted that, “these are some of the hard pills we may have to swallow”, adding that the distinction has been made a long time ago in the judicial system of the United Kingdom.
He maintained that a trial lawyer who comes to court knows the environment, what the rules are and how the system operates adding that just as a non-surgeon would be fumbling around in the theatre until the patient may die, a non-trial lawyer would continue to fumble and delay justice.
“And that is a serious undertaking that we are dealing with – human lives, peoples’ fortunes and we could do with some real professionalism in the country so that you don’t have practitioners in the courts who are fishing for an answer”, the Governor said.
Citing some of the actions of non-trial lawyers that cause delay in court, Fashola said, “They will deny every plea you claim; they will deny even the name of the plaintiff. What happens is that the plaintiff will now be first put on trial to prove that he is who he is and all these take time. It is only when the issues are in control of professionals that you could have a real trial’, adding, “It is the lack of experience because they don’t know what to do; it is not their area of specialization”.
He also advised lawyers to debunk the concept that they must win every case they handle in court pointing out that a lawyer should restrict himself to getting justice for his client according to the rule of law adding that if lawyers understand this and put it into practice it would narrow down the issues in court.
“The concept that lawyers must win a case is a concept that must go out of the window. Lawyers are trained and paid to help their clients get justice according to the law and not to win cases. If trial lawyers understand this and put to practice what we will achieve first is the narrowing of the issues”. Governor Fashola said
He urged Judges to insist on trial lawyers narrowing down the issues in court to avoid unnecessary waste of time.
Governor Fashola also advised lawyers to restrain their clients from going to court, when it is possible, adding that giving their clients honest advices on whether or not to go to court would, in addition to reducing unnecessary litigations in court and putting pressure on judges, earn the confidence of clients for the law officer as it would save money that would have been spent on a fruitless pursuit.
He agreed with the suggestion that law officers must be made to pay for wasting the time of the court on any case arguing that the right to be heard does not mean the right to be a nuisance.
“I agree that we must make some serious evaluation in the matter of cost and you cannot do that without some modification of the rules. Perhaps part of the modification is to see the roles that we the operators of the rules play as lawyers and judges and other members of the judicial system”, he said.
Governor, who highlighted other factor that could cause delay in court processes such as lack of adequate infrastructure including Power supply, said the Lagos State Government has done a lot in the last 14 years to correct the anomaly adding that the administration has built courtrooms and upgraded the magistracy as well as supplied Power through its Independent Power Project.
Fashola who commended the ministry of Justice for the conference said his administration undertook to increase the jurisdiction of the magistracy and expand it in order some relief to the High Courts because there were cases that were piling up in the high courts that could to provide be dealt with at the magistracy level adding that it was done to complement the high court reforms that were made during the tenure of Professor Yomi Oshibanjo as the State’s Chief law Officer.