To Set High And Attainable Standards For An Energetic And Transparent Workforce To Support And Uphold An Independent Federal Judiciary In Nigeria
To Liaise With Relevant Stakeholders In Ensuring That Competent Judicial Officers And Support Staff Are Engaged In The Service Of The Federal Judiciary”
“The achievement of an independent, reform-oriented and well-funded justice delivery system that guarantees the rule of law , and which is efficient, effective , transparent, accountable and accessible to all.”
To ensure accountability and other improvements in the delivery of justice through the enforcement of rules and standards, and the development of an independent justice system committed to reform, working in conjunction with other justice stakeholders.
Above quoted are the Vision and Mission Statements of the Federal Judicial Service Commission and the Lagos State Judiciary representing each organisation’s strategic plan. A strategic plan is a systematic process of envisioning a desired future, and translating this vision into broadly defined goals or objectives and a sequence of steps to achieve them. In contrast to long-term planning (which begins with the current status and lays down a path to meet estimated future needs), strategic planning begins with the desired –end and works backward to the current status.
A popular saying goes, “we prepare for war in time of peace” which presupposes that countries do not wait until a time of war before embarking on strengthening its physical and aerial defence. In many countries of the world, a large chunk of budgetary allocation goes into defence-related matters. Likewise, several formal private sector organizations have over the years churned out strategic approach towards being the frontrunners in their industries whilst delivering value to customers and Clients.
The role of the judiciary cannot also be undermined as the judicial system through the courts especially is responsible for ensuring and upholding the rule of Law. The principle of separation of powers seeks to give each arm of government independence from the other arms while working in concert to achieve national progress and development. As a very important part of the governance structure in modern society, the Judiciary also must (and in many countries do) have a strategic approach employed towards delivering on the expectations of its “customers” (litigants, petitioners, complainants) and stakeholders (legal services, law enforcement etc)
Rather than belabour the challenges faced by the Nigerian judiciary at both the Federal and State levels, this article will enumerate certain areas for reform and strategic planning with the goal of strengthening the Nigerian judiciary to effectively perform its statutory role and improve the public perception about its functions.
It is firmly the writer’s opinion that the judiciary needs to come into tandem with expectations of the general populace and international community in the delivery of its services, leveraging on information technology and borrowing leaves as appropriate from the private sector in the conduct of the business of the court. The following are areas of reform or improvement that will augur well for the Nigerian judiciary at all levels.
1. Respectful treatment: Litigants and counsel are the principal “customers” of the judicial system and in accordance with best global practices, “the customer is KING”. While this sort of reasoning is somewhat alien in judicial circles, it must become ingrained in all stakeholders within the judicial roles to extend courtesy and respect to every visitor to the Temple of Justice.
Countries that rank highly on the World Justice Rule of Law Index were found to pay specific attention to this salient and germane aspect of provision of services to the “customers” of the judiciary. Speaking in plain, easy to understand language is an important element in the respectful treatment of those who approach the Courts for justice. More often than not, litigants are in the dark as to the “language” and manner of the Court.
Having an information desk and materials that explain the procedure of the Court would go a long way to improving the perception of the public about the workings of the Judiciary. simple pamphlets that detail the hierarchy of courts and officials, the proper channels to approach for various disputes resolutions, the anticipated time for resolution of conflicts, these are all areas of improvement and reforms that will quickly catapult the Judiciary to higher pedestals in the minds and thoughts of the general populace in Nigeria.
2. Improved Accountability: It is worthy of mention the significant progress that has been made by the National Judicial Council (NJC) especially in the areas of periodic and regular performance management of Judges. However, more strides must be taken to penalize tardiness or a lackadaisical attitude towards prompt resolution of cases pending before the court. This fuels the agitation for more proactive Case Management strategies and techniques which allows an integration of Court Rules as regards time with the Court’s Management system to forestall delays and sharp practices by Counsel or support staff.
One of the pillars of the significant progress often recorded in private sector led initiatives and business is the concept of OBJECTIVE PERFOMANCE EVALUATION AND MANAGEMENT. Without a doubt, the NJC has been at the forefront of this campaign; one cannot but ask – who monitors the performance of judicial support staff, who more often than not are in more interaction with the general public than the revered judicial officers?
A quick corollary to this question is – who monitors and evaluates the performance of officers in the Temple of Justice i.e Lawyers? Based on many traditional beliefs, there is a reluctance to hold lawyers accountable for professional negligence or behaviour in the prosecution of cases or handling of transactions. Could the perceived un-impressive record of lawyers especially in getting justice for the common man be responsible for the lack of confidence and fast declining patronage of lawyers? This certainly is food for thought, especially now that more than ever before, many areas hitherto reserved for lawyers have been opened up by technology and are now being encroached upon by other professionals.
3. Credibility: There is no gainsaying that to the average man on the street in Nigeria, the Judiciary (comprising of Judges and Lawyers) are perceived to be a major part of the problem especially in the fight against corruption. While this may not be completely correct, it does reveal the perception that has evolved of the judicial institution over the years which must not be deliberately corrected.
It will not be out of place for the State and Federal Judiciaries to begin to sensitize and create awareness about their achievements and accomplishments in dispensing justice according to the Law. There must be concerted efforts to re-define and enhance credibility to the court. Our judicial system must get to a level where the ordinary man can be confident that his matter in court will be fairly heard and tried. Justice must not only be done, but in the mind of the ordinary man, justice must be seen to have been done.
The areas highlighted above are just some of the areas where by using a strategic approach, the Judiciary can on its own positively re-write the script about administration of justice in Nigeria. It will not be too far-fetched to borrow a leaf or two from other jurisdictions whose judiciaries are well regarded and have earned global respect in the administration of justice.