A stitch in time, the saying goes, saves nine. The popular maxim, “justice delayed is justice denied”, is a universal truth in legal practice which simply explains that delayed legal redress is as good as having none.
In Nigeria, pending cases have hit an all-time high in recent times. Some cases drag on for years with no end in sight, to the bewilderment of the plaintiff. This can be attributed to the fact that political interference in legal issues have resulted in complexity of cases.
One of these cases is the one of former Gov. James Ibori of Delta State. The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) preferred 170 charges against him in 2009 but the Federal High Court in Asaba later absolved him of all the charges.
Also interesting to note is that while the case was still pending on appeal in Nigeria, Ibori pleaded guilty to similar charges before a London court and was duly sentenced to 13 years’ imprisonment.
There is a clear pointer to the inefficiency of the Judiciary if a man that was absolved of all charges in Nigeria, pleaded to same charges abroad and was sentenced.
The delayed justice system in Nigeria has seen to many politicians escaping the arm of the law many years after their wrong doings. Some elected governors upon winning elections in their states have had to wait years after before being declared winners in appellate courts.
The common man is not left out of this rot, as cases abound of persons who have been remanded in prison custody for years without facing trial, only for them to be found innocent years after languishing in prison.
For the influential, it is a different ball game all together. Serious charges of corruption are met with objections and bids to drop charges.
Rich offenders can afford well skilled lawyers who can devise different strategies to delay, or prevent, successful prosecution. Poor offenders don’t have this benefit.
The judges are not left out, as their inability to firmly control these gimmicks has led to these cases dragging on in court while the offenders walk freely and people begin to forget there was ever a case in the first place.
These issues have formed a belief in the minds of people seeking legal redress that it is a time wasting venture because not only does it drag for long (while appeals and cross appeals are inevitable parts of litigation, the lengthy time spent on them is not), the possibility of a compromised judiciary serves as a final nail to the coffin.
Legal experts have charged the courts to adopt new court procedures. They recommended that once trial had commenced in a case, no party should be entitled to more than two adjournments, after which the court must proceed with the trial. That way, lawyers, who hid under the guise of seeking adjournments to delay the determination of their cases, would be discouraged.
They also added that Supreme Court justices are lesser than the recommended number which is 21. It is only logical that having more Supreme Court judges would result in a fast-pace judicial system.
The Nigerian judiciary has a great role to play in the country’s development. There is a popular saying that the court is the last hope of a common man.