Is it true that the judiciary is the hope of the common man?
Maybe not in our beloved country, Nigeria.
It is very unfortunate that a good number of Nigerians, especially the less privileged, are remanded in prison for several years without trial.
The painful part of this anomaly is that some of them are later found to be innocent after languishing in jail for a crime they never committed.
An expedited trial would have at least ameliorated the injustice they suffered.
Justice delayed, as it is said, is justice denied.
How did we get here and what is the way out of this ugly situation in the country’s judicial system?
What we are witnessing today in the country’s judicial system is a result of government negligence over the years in promoting legislation and policies that will enhance the judiciary and eventually reduce the injustice meted out to ordinary Nigerians who are denied access to justice.
Another major challenge is the limited number of court judges available to handle the myriads of cases that are filed daily.
The number of new cases filed every day far outnumbers the cases that are closed daily, which is why cases can linger for as much as ten years, or more.
There is also a challenge to the few court buildings where cases are heard. There is an urgent need to build more court houses so that newly appointed judges will have a place to hear cases.
Appointing new judges and providing more court houses will go a long way in making the adjudication of cases more efficient and consequently reduce the number of cases awaiting trial for so many years.
Something drastic must be done to clear the backlog of cases that have lingered for so many years.
In addition, the courts have failed to employ the benefits of technology to expedite the court processes. Cases as of today are still handwritten, and the scheduling of court hearings is manually managed by the court’s registrars and their teams.
Technology can be applied to develop a database of all filed cases as well as the details of people remanded in prison.
A computer program can be developed to make more visible all remanded prisoners that have yet to be tried. It could be in the form of alerts on a first-in-first-out (FIFO) basis.
With these, the problem of missing files will be eliminated, which in most cases is masterminded by people who want the affected prisoners to be forgotten in jail.
It is equally very important to review the legislation that regulates the judicial processes.
Legislations are to be reviewed to enhance and fast-track these processes.
For instance, there is a law in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, which stipulates a fine for anyone found hawking in the streets and roads of the territory.
This law stipulates that any defaulter will pay a given amount as a fine. However, if the person fails to pay the fine, he or she will be transferred to prison.
Laws like this require review and amendment, which will make provisions for better and more contemporary laws and policies.
The utmost desire is to have policies and systems that will decongest our prisons and ensure that people are not remanded in prisons for very long periods of time due to delays in court processes.