Cleen Foundation, a Non-Governmental Organisation, has appealed to the National Assembly to pass the bill on Virtual Court Proceeding in order to fast track and strengthen the Administration of the Criminal Justice System.
Benson Olugbuo, the Executive Director of the foundation, said this on Tuesday at the sixth Virtual National Working Group Meeting on Promoting Transparency and Accountability in the Criminal Justice System in Nigeria.
Olugbuo said in response to the current global pandemic, virtual court proceedings had become paramount for speedy and effective administration of justice.
He said: “The focus of this meeting is centred on gaining broader and useful insights on the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) 2015.
“Also for effective strategising for the implementation of the ACJA with a basis for promoting anti-corruption through adapting contemporary technology based litigation.
“Courts around the world are now adapting to finding remote or alternatives to traditional court hearings to ensure ongoing access to justice.
“Courts in China are in the front line and are encouraging digitisation to streamline case-handling within sprawling court system using cyberspace and technologies like blockchain and cloud computing.”
Olugbuo said millions of legal cases were now being decided by internet courts that do not require citizens to appear in court.
He said the use of technology in the administration of justice was now an inevitable trend as the current pandemic significantly pushed for the digitalisation.
He appealed to the Senate to hasten the process of constitutionalising virtual court sittings in the country.
He said: “The Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria presently has before it a bill to amend the Constitution to make virtual court proceedings constitutional.
“One could argue that virtual court proceedings are constitutional so far as it is not contrary to the provisions of Section 36(3) and (4) of the constitution.
“However, an amendment is needed for those provisions in the constitution in order to remove all ambiguities relating to this novelty and for clarity.”
Olugbuo said that while it awaits the conclusion of the National Assembly on the bill, Lagos and Ekiti States has filed separate actions invoking the original jurisdiction of the Supreme Court to interpret the constitutionality of virtual proceedings in courts.
According to him, the Supreme Court verdict affirmed that conducting virtual proceedings in courts in Nigeria was not unconstitutional owning that justice delayed was justice denied.
He also said a committee has been set up by the National Judicial Council, headed by Justice Olabode Rhodes-Vivour, Justice of the Supreme Court, on guidelines and measures to enable safe court sittings during the COVID-19 pandemic.
He urged the courts and counsel to insist on the remote and alternative hearings for court matters that do not require any evidence.
He also said all judgments, rulings and directions may be delivered and handed down by the courts in and through remote court sittings.
He urged Civil Society Organisations, stakeholders and government agencies not to relent in seeking effective justice delivery within the criminal justice sector.
Olugbuo urged all critical stakeholders to be prepared for the speedy, inexpensive and efficient evolution within the justice system.