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Justice Delayed Is Justice Denied

14 Dec 2012

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Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi

In any society, human interactions will always bring about differences of opinions and views as well as interests. These differences are at the root of conflicts, disagreements and disputes. The dispute in turn may relate to social, economic or political interest of the members of that society.

When members of a civilized society have disagreements, disputes or contrary opinions regarding their rights or obligations, they go for arbitration in an institution - the court created and empowered by law to address the differences and resolve the dispute between the members of the society.  Even the state has recourse to the court to vindicate the public interest especially in criminal matters.

The court is therefore a critical institution for an orderly society. Where the court is not in a position, for any reason, to timely and properly address the issues in dispute, the people are wont to lose faith in this critical institution of government with the resultant recourse to other means of resolving disputes, including self-help.  Should a judicial system continue to adjourn a case for many years without the conclusion of the trial? Cases like this abound in our courts.

Our justice administration system as represented by the court is unusually slow. This has adverse implications for the society.   Which bring us to the famous legal maxim "Justice delayed is justice denied”.  The legal maxim "Justice delayed is justice denied" requires that legal redress should be timely.  Thus, if legal redress available for a party that has suffered some injury is not forthcoming in a timely manner, it is almost effectively the same as having no redress at all. 

This legal principle is the basis for what we may call the right to a speedy trial and similar rights which are meant to expedite the judicial process. Whatever the perspective anyone would want to look at it, it is most unfair and one can safely say against the natural course of justice for an injured party to have to sustain the injury with little hope for a speedy resolution.  This leaves litigants forlorn and despondent.

The legal maxim has attained the status of a rallying cry for legal reformers who view courts or governments as acting too slowly in resolving legal issues either because the existing system is too complex or overburdened, or because the issue or party in question lacks political favour.  While there are conflicting accounts of the origin of the maxim, its validity and relevance to a modern society are too obvious to be ignored. However, the maxim may be traced to Clause 40 of the Magna Carta, which reads, "To no one will we sell, to no one will we refuse or delay, right or justice." The reason one goes to court is to get justice, and therefore where justice is delayed, it is similar to a denial of justice. 

Along this line, a former Chief Justice of the United States Warren E. Burger, in an address to a meeting of the American Bar Association on August 10, 1970, observed that: "a sense of confidence in the courts is essential to maintain the fabric of ordered liberty for a free people, and three things could destroy that confidence and do incalculable damage to society:      ( i) that people come to believe that inefficiency and delay will drain even a just judgment of its value; (ii)  that people who have long been exploited in the smaller transactions of daily life come to believe that courts cannot vindicate their legal rights from fraud and over-reaching; (iii) that people come to believe the law - in the larger sense - cannot fulfil its primary function to protect them and their families in their homes, at their work, and on the public streets."

The first point implies that delay can render a favourable judgment of the court meaningless to the victorious party.  The second and third points are sure recipe for despondence and resort to self-help.   It is therefore imperative that all the stakeholders make committed efforts to guard against these outcomes.  Following from the foregoing, it is clear that the socio-economic and even the political development of the state will be impeded where the system for the administration of justice is fraught with inordinate delays. 

One cardinal policy of my administration with respect to the economic development of the state is the revival of moribund businesses of the state.  We have therefore invited private operators to partner the state to revive assets whose operation as going concerns would create employment opportunities and reduce unemployment in the state.  We have initiated projects that are attracting private investors – both local and foreign into the state.  As the economic activities are catalysed by government, the need for a judicial system that can support the development in terms of speedy delivery and quality of service has become an imperative.

I believe that our quest for modernisation, as well as the rapid and sustainable economic development of our state calls for an effective and efficient judicial system. By an effective and efficient judicial system, I mean a system of administration of justice that ensures timely conclusion of matters before the courts, proper application of the law to the facts, robust reasoning and documentation of the basis for the decision of the court.

The Bar and the Bench, and indeed all stakeholders must work together to identify the causes of the delays, and come up with suggestions on how to deal with the problem.
In addition to other causes of delay, I believe that the lack of automation and use of relevant technology in and by the courts contribute to delays.  My view is that the automation of the court system and indeed the judicial process in our state is long overdue.

Finally, it is our hope that the proceedings of today should lead to some tangible outcomes: (i) the proper identification of the causes of delay in judicial proceedings; (ii.) an agreement by all the stakeholders to address these; and (iii.) proposals of effective solutions including the identification of action items and deliverables from identified parties with clear timelines for action.  We should also have clarity on the key performance indicators and mechanism for evaluating progress. The aim is that soon, the improvement in the speed in the pronouncement and execution of judgment will restrain people from doing wrong.

Amaechi, the Rivers State Governor, spoke at a town hall meeting with the legal profession in the state on the road map to an effective judicial system in the state

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