A News Analysis by Sandra Umeh, News Agency of Nigeria (NAN)
The registry is certainly the busiest section of the court of law. Numerous activities emanating from it daily lend credence to this. The activities include filing of suits, generation of suit numbers, swearing to affidavits, initiating and stamping of processes and other documents, assignment of cases and collection of filing fees.
The high volume of work in the registry shows it is indispensable in justice administration. As a pillar of the justice process, the registry remains open to judicial activities even during court vacations.
Lawyers spend hours in the registry filing processes or stamping documents and, sometimes, leave the registry unable to complete their tasks due to competing demands.
At least 100 legal counsel and litigants visit the accounts department of the registry daily to make payments.
Analysts are worried that most of the activities in the court registry are still conducted manually by judicial workers and officers. This elongates the time of carrying out these duties.
The Lagos State Government had in September 2013 introduced electronic filing (e-filing) of court cases for enhanced justice delivery but the process is very slow contrary to expectations that the system would speed up dispensation of justice.
E-filing system requires lawyers to take hard copies of their court processes for electronic filing in the registry, where they will be allocated a computer to input the processes and submit.
After this, a temporary suit number, usually written as TEMP, is generated and assigned to the lawyer, who must wait for a permanent suit number for four days or five days. Without the permanent number, the filing of suit is incomplete.
Although electronic filing of cases has been replicated by some states of the federation, it has yet to reduce workload in the court registry.
The National President of the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights, Mr Malachy Ugwummadu, who describes the court registry as the engine room of the administrative arm of the court system, says there are enormous challenges facing the registry, particularly in a city such as Lagos with high volumes of litigation.
He notes that besides litigation, the registry undertakes other judicial activities including certification, judgment execution, compilation of records of appeal and transmission of records.
According to him, in spite of adoption of the Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) technique, the registry is overworked in all levels of courts – customary, magistrates, high, appeal and supreme.
“Challenges are facing the registry particularly that of skill and tools of engagement.
“We are still stuck, even in this age where speed and accuracy are measured by the deployment of information technology and other technologies that reduce pressure on paper work.
“In spite of the fact that the rules of court recognises the place of electronic registration, we are still stuck; the bulk of litigation process is still done manually in our registries.
“Tools of engagement are the major problems as there is no corresponding equipment compared to the volume of work in the registries. This slows the pace of work,” he argues.
According to Ugwummadu, filing of processes still take up to two days because the cyber system often suffers failure. He claims that, sometimes, it takes up to two months to get documents sorted out in the court registry. The lawyer calls for an improved computerised system for ease of work.
Mr George Etomi, a commercial and energy law expert, observes that the daily numerous activities in the court registry show the huge volume of litigation in the society. According to him, claimants perceive litigation as the only avenue for effective conflict resolution.
He advises litigants to explore other resolution windows, warning that the high volume of cases filed at the registry can clog the wheels of progress of courts even with electronic filing of cases, which, also describes as still slow.
“When you take a look at the volume of cases before each judge, you will understand the drawbacks,” he says. Etomi believes that many cases can be taken care of through ADR mechanisms outside the courts, urging litigants to explore the mechanisms.
He says: “The volume of work including cases filed at the registry is alarming; a modality should be put in place to reward parties who are able to achieve amicable conflict resolution outside the court. That way, many litigants will learn to look away from litigation; this will reduce the workload of the registry,” he argues.
He also urges training and re-training of registrars and judicial workers for greater efficiency.
A former President of the Nigerian Bar Association, Mr Augustine Alegeh (SAN), is also of the opinion that work in the court registry can be facilitated by availability of adequate skilled labour and machines.
“In other countries of the world, once a case is filed electronically, it is assigned to a judge on the spot, and the system has a record of the number of judges of the courts, as well as the number of cases handled by each judge. According to him, work in the court registry will be eased with such facilities.
“I think that such an effective platform can be replicated here so as to facilitate justice delivery,” he says.
Analysts believe that upgrading of court registries nationwide must be given priority attention in 2019 in an effort to speed up justice delivery and sustain the judiciary as the last hope of the common man.