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In Nigeria, Delay In Getting Court Judgements Fuels Human Rights Abuse

Lawyers said frequent delays in getting certified copies of court rulings are contributing to overcrowding in Nigeria's correctional centres and fueling abuse of people’s right to a fair hearing.

Nurudeen Oyedeji, 33, was sentenced to death by hanging by an Osun State High Court in Osogbo, Southwest Nigeria, in Aug. 2021 for murder. He was arrested in 2019 in the Asubiaro area of the state capital, following a clash that caused the death of one Segun Adebayo.

After two years of several adjournments, Nurudeen was sentenced to death last year. He then told his lawyer, Yusuf Mojeed, to appeal. 

To achieve this, the lawyer needed to immediately apply for a certified true copy (CTC) of the judgement so he could file the appeal within the stipulated three-month window. There was, however, some delay in getting the CTC, causing his client to forfeit his right of appeal.

Different lawyers told HumAngle that CTC of court judgments are stipulated by law to be made available within seven days. But in most cases, they have to wait for several months to get it and sometimes miss the three-month deadline to file an appeal. 

According to the lawyers, the trend is causing a delay in justice administration and denial of citizens’ right to appeal recognised by the country’s constitution passed in 1999. While courts are to administer justice as efficiently as possible because it inspires public confidence in the judicial process, the criminal justice system in Nigeria is infamously bogged down by delay and inefficiency.

Mojeed told HumAngle that the appeal court might have reversed his client’s death sentence if he got the CTC in time to prepare for the appeal. When the lawyer asked why there was a delay in getting the CTC, court officials told him the judge had been too busy to vet it. 

“I made several efforts but was told that the judge was occupied and could not get a vet and put his signature on the CTC. Till now, we do not have a copy of the judgement. My client has since lost hope as his rights to appeal got frustrated. This is just one of many cases where delay in getting CTC of court judgement denies people justice. No one knows what may happen at the appeal; the lower court judgement might be upturned.”

Another Lagos-based lawyer, Susan Collins, shared a similar experience. In 2017, her client, Tunde Raji, had a fight with a taxi driver in the Ikeja axis of Lagos and was arrested by the police. After a week in detention, Raji was charged to court for theft and later got sentenced to two years in jail. 

Collins made efforts to appeal the judgement but ran out of time waiting for the CTC. “The court registry frustrated all my efforts. It was always one story or the other until we couldn’t file the appeal. The client had to complete his jail term since we could not file within the stipulated time.”

Another lawyer, Ezekiel Andrew, said he has spent the last two months trying to obtain the CTC of a ruling of the Federal High Court in Kogi and was yet to get it as of the time of speaking with HumAngle. For him, court officials need to be more efficient in discharging their duties so citizens do not have their right to appeal denied. 

He also argued that judges need to adopt the use of modern technology in such a way that judgement would be typed directly instead of being written. “By now, we should have judges or secretaries who can type as court processes are going on just like stenographers,” he said.

Speaking on the implications, lawyers and rights activists told HumAngle that delay in getting CTC of court judgements has an effect on the high number of inmates held in correctional facilities. 

“The police sometimes carry out illegal arrests and file wrong charges against people. When an order or judgement is given, there should be appropriate room for appeal which in many instances has helped a lot of people wrongly convicted at the lower courts. The challenge that comes with this is that we will have our prisons overcrowded,” noted Andrew.

For two days, the spokesperson of Nigeria’s Ministry of Justice, Umar Gwandu, did not respond to calls and text messages asking him if the ministry was aware of this issue and about efforts in place to address it. 

Meanwhile, the spokesperson of the National Judicial Council, Soji Oye, urged lawyers to petition any judge that delays the release of court judgment CTCs, causing the abuse of citizens’ rights to appeal judgements they disagree with.

Way forward

Hezekiah Olujobi, founder of the Centre for Justice, Mercy and Reconciliation, a Non-governmental Organisation dealing with fundamental rights abuses, told HumAngle that there is a need for the digitisation of the court process.

“Judges need to adopt new-age technologies by putting an end to the use of pen and paper for documentation. Handwriting is a good form of documentation, but with modern technologies, we can even have court judgements under 24 hours and would be available for assessment online.” 

He also said that there is a need for a reform of the judicial system in such a way that it reduces the stress on judges. 

Lekan Adewoyin, an ICT expert with Century Communications in Lagos, shares a similar opinion. “Nigeria has refused to change from the analogue era to the digital age. Digitalisation is simply the solution to the menace. The approach would help the court to keep track or judges should be mandated to ensure that judgements are ready before pronouncements,” he said.

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Adejumo Kabir

Kabir works at HumAngle as the Editor of Southern Operations. He is interested in community development reporting, human rights, social justice, and press freedom. He was a finalist in the student category of the African Fact-checking Award in 2018, a 2019 recipient of the Diamond Awards for Media Excellence, and a 2020 recipient of the Thomson Foundation Young Journalist Award. He was also nominated in the journalism category of The Future Awards Africa in 2020. He has been selected for various fellowships, including the 2020 Civic Media Lab Criminal Justice Reporting Fellowship and 2022 International Centre for Journalists (ICFJ) 'In The Name of Religion' Fellowship.

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