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Judges Oppose Virtual Court Sitting, Say it’s Unconstitutional

Many judges have rejected virtual Court sitting saying such practice is against the 1999 Constitution, as amended.

Investigation by THISDAY reveals that many judges, particularly at the high court level and the Court of Appeal, are of the view that there are constitutional hurdles to cross before Nigeria can adopt a system of remote hearing of cases.

They cite section 36 of the constitution, which provides that court proceedings, including delivery of court decisions, shall be held in public.

But the Senate on Tuesday considered a bill to amend the constitution to make virtual court proceedings constitutional. The bill, titled, “1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (Alteration) Bill, 2020 (SB. 418),” was sponsored by Senator Michael Opeyemi Bamidele.

Some of the judges who spoke with THISDAY on condition of anonymity expressed reservations about the adoption of the digital platforms of hearing cases.

They reasoned that cases heard and determined under such arrangement were most likely to be set aside by the Supreme Court on the ground that such hearings did not meet the constitutional thresholds for determining cases.

Moreover, lawyers are feeling frustrated that the lockdowns have denied them the opportunity to practise their trade. Many cases, including those involving human rights violations, could not be filed as a result of the lockdowns.

Although the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Tanko Muhammad, had directed that cases that were time bound and urgent be heard, lawyers could not leave their houses because of lockdowns imposed by states.

To ensure that the justice system was not grounded to a total halt, some senior lawyers had written to the CJN to consider adoption of remote court sitting.

In one of such letters, the Justice Reform Project, in a letter dated April 14, 2020, urged the CJN “to consider issuing immediate Court Directions and Protocols to ensure the continued administration of justice in the face of the pandemic.”

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