By Nnamdi Rapheal Anagor
Now that we have gradually ushered ourselves into the era of e-court in Nigeria, things cannot be same in the administration of justice. A lot of legal practitioners are enthusiastic about the development and I must state that I am enthusiastic about it too.
Yes, the virtual courts are here and they are here to stay but the rules guiding them are yet to be put to test.
Yes, folks in Europe and the US who wonder why it takes so long to conclude a simple divorce matter can breathe a sigh of relief. No longer will they have to travel from so far from their bases in Europe or the US with attending costs for a matter only to be told the court is not sitting. They may not need to travel from Europe or the US to do their divorce matters any longer. As long as the matrimonial causes are simple matters of dissolution and no more, they can easily give their evidence from wherever they are.
However, after a deep reflection on the matter, I came to the conclusion that much has not change in our infrastructure and attitude to give the technology driven e-court the needed room to grow in Nigeria.
Permit me to state here that some things would not change that fast. In fact, the more it appears that things are changing, the more they will remain the same.
I should say the rules are still largely in a formative stage; we have to start anyhow and we have started. I am not a scientist, but it appears that whenever technology is deployed to cure certain deficiencies in the society, it more often than not brings along some disadvantages no matter how little. However, I did not set out to explore the disadvantages of a virtual court in this piece.
What I seek to bring to the fore in this work is the fact that the virtual court is only going to be complementary to the conventional court at the moment and we may not be able to achieve much with it even though the potentials are enormous.
Nigeria as an entity has its own infrastructural challenges, needless to say the socio-economic challenges. Those challenges will begin to rear their ugly heads early enough.
The success or failure of a matter has to do with evidence adduced by parties in a matter. At the moment, our virtual courts may not be able to do more than accommodate matters that have to do mainly with oral evidence, motions, applications, preliminary proceedings etc; when it comes to the case of real evidence in trials, then the efficiency of a virtual court will be put to test.
I saw that the Borno virtual court dealt expediently with a criminal matter. What about criminal matters where a corpse has to be exhumed?
Take for instance, where a court needs to visit the locus; where real evidence has to be examined by opposing counsel before cross-examination; where real evidence is immovable etc. And I dare to say at some point, the virtual courts may be able to deal with all the situations but e-courts will have to deal with technological manipulations as well.
What about contempt proceedings? The court has the obligation of protecting the sanctity of the court. How does the court deal with contempt in facie curiae in a virtual court? We will only succeed in adding other terms to the language of our jurisprudence like “suspended sentence.” Of course, at some point, we will find a way to deal with all the shortcomings of a virtual court, perhaps through fines which sometimes is not always the best form of punishment.
For the virtual courts in Nigeria, it is certainly not yet uhuru from unnecessary adjournments.
Without even much ado, the jurisdictions that are well ahead of us in infrastructure and have deployed technology in the administration of justice in ways we have not even thought of, are still using the conventional courts; so I say that at best, for the time being, this virtual court is going to be complementary as most of our proceedings will still be conducted using the regular four walls of a courtroom.
Nnamdi Raphael Anagor Esq.
Always think Positive.