S’Court Repositions for Better Justice Delivery

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Tobi Soniyi writes on the secret revolution going on at the Supreme Court, as new state of the art equipment is installed to make justice delivery transparent and efficient

Last week, the Supreme Court was widely commended after it rendered final judgment in the appeal between the two factions laying claim to the leadership of the Peoples Democratic Party.

Before then, the apex court had resolved other disputes  and endured that disputes that threatened the nation were amicably resolved in line with the constitution.

However, the judiciary, which the Supreme Court represents, is usually denied adequate funding by the executive. This great institution has to go cap in hands to seek additional funding. The good news however, is that despite struggling with inadequate funding, the apex court has effectively utilized the little it had to improve justice delivery in the country. Anyone who has visited the court in recent time will testify to the fact that the ‎complex now wears a new look. 

The court, which is the highest court in Nigeria is located in the Central District, Abuja, in what is known as the Three Arms Zone,  due to the proximity to the President’s office and the National Assembly.‎ 

It is, un-arguably, one of the nation’s national monuments and like its counterpart in other climes, a treasure and symbol of national unity to behold. The apex court complex in Abuja was built over 20 years ago by the General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida’s military government. 

Like many monuments in Nigeria, the Supreme Court had also suffered  from lack of repairs.  It faced serious infrastructural decay, wear and tear until the immediate past Chief Justice of Nigeria, Hon Justice Mahmud Mohammed (GCON) and the immediate past Chief Registrar of the Supreme Court, Gambo ‎Saleh, now Secretary of the National Judicial Council, assumed leadership of the nation’s judiciary and administration of the court respectively. The excellent work began by Mahmud is being sustained by the incumbent CJN, Justice Walter Onnoghen.

The Chief Registrar, with the support of the CJN, embarked on infrastructural upgrading of the facilities and face-lifting of the complex to enhance performance efficiency and provide conducive working environment for justices and supporting staff of the apex court.

In ‎November 24th, 2014  a comprehensive overhaul of the complex’s infrastructures began. Among others, anyone who recently visited the court would have noticed the following: 

Landscaping‎

The visible features of the complexe’s surrounding have been re-designed with more paved walkways and lawns continuously kept tidy. Several watering pipes and sprinkling taps were installed to keep the lawns, shrubs and trees ever green even during dry seasons. New flower pots now adorned the driveways. The premises has indeed become more beautiful to behold.

Renovation

For instance, the roofing sheets of the entire complex were replaced. This is a major work on its own. The vast external white tiled walls were crafty cleaned up with chemical and machines, while the internal walls have been re-painted.

So many offices within the complex have either been rehabilitated or reconstructed and now boast of state of the art fittings including furniture, gadgets, computers, windows and bullet proof doors, just to mention a few. Among the offices upgraded are Internal Audit, Account, Information Technology offices,and the Litigation Department. 

The main entrance to the complex has also been re-tooled with sensory doors. The CJN chamber was re-touched with betting fittings and carpeting. The foyer or ceremonial hall where major events are conducted in the complex was also touched. An e-library was also installed. 

Two fully furnished state of the art canteens have also been constructed with air-conditioners and modern day facilities. The canteens are now being run by professionals to cater for the needs of staff and visitors alike.

 New Befitting Retiring-Rooms for Justices 

To ease the work of the justices, marble-tiled retiring room containing dining, rest rooms and relaxing furnishings have been constructed adjacent each of the three court rooms in the complex. Attached to each of these rooms is an up-to-date library for research.This is in addition to the main library. A new virtual library is also in place.

The Supreme Court Registry has streamlined and improved the archival and retrieval process of case files.  This is to curtail the loss and/or misplacement of case files and its incidental effects as was the case in the past.

There has been an upgrade of the security architecture of the court in line with the security realities of our country. Scanners were also installed to ensure no one smuggles any harmful objects into the court. The era when anyone can force his way into the court is gone forever.

Going Digital 

The interviews of candidates for the conferment of the rank of Senior Advocates of Nigeria are now streamed live on the website of the Supreme Court .This was for all members of the public to view and assess the suitability or otherwise of the interviewees in order to forestall allegations of preferential treatment, bias and nepotism in the appointment process. 

The New Legal Year Ceremony is also streamed live on the apex court website, another first in the history of the Supreme Court and the Nigerian Judiciary. 

The courtrooms have been completely re-structured, re-constructed and re-fitted with ultra-modern digital and state of the art equipment and computers that can compete comparatively with courts anywhere in the advanced world. Some of the new features are:

Technology Enabled Judge’s Bench

Justices benches are fitted with computer displays and Audio Visual Equipment that enables each justice to view exhibits and documents, control court proceedings and make research on citation. These features are also available on the registrars and attorneys’ desks for effective synchronization. 

High Definition Audio/Video Recording Equipment

This latest technologies enable the courtroom to be connected to a unified system that has a central repository for all audio/video recordings proceedings and associated linked notes. The court records include the transcripts, audio or audio and video recordings of any hearings, appearances and courtroom proceedings.

New Court Reporting Software

the FTR Software, a powerful solution for digital court reporting is also implemented in this project. It allows real-time transcription and transmission of court proceedings. This software works by capturing, annotating, playing back and managing the record of court proceedings. Up to 4-channel audio can be recorded and managed. FTR Reporter also facilitates electronic court reporting through linked note-taking as well as review and playback of pre-recorded content. 

High Technology Mobile Podium for Presentation 

The focal point of the evidence presentation system is the podium. The podium is mounted on a swivel base to enable the presenter face the judges or the barristers as may be required. The podium contains a touch-screen monitor for viewing and make-up of evidence sources including the document camera and various other inputs. There are also USB and SD Card connections for displaying media from these external devices. There is a remote control that can be operated by the presenter. The podium also houses electronic components that gather and disseminate the media throughout the courtroom.

Document Camera 

A document camera to display exhibits which can be viewed by judges, registrars and Lawyers. It instantaneously converts a paper document or physical exhibit to an electronic image, with ability to enlarge and reduce the image as needed. This new design has High Definition room camera unit strategically positioned in the courtroom as well as fish-eye camera to capture all aspects of the courtroom. This will enable full viewing and recording of courtroom session.

Enhanced Room Audio Speakers

To ensure good quality sound, the court has been fitted with 6 pairs of Extron Speed Mount 2-Way Surface Mount Speakers with 6.5’’ woofer and 70/100 V Transformer suitably located around the room.

 

Viewing Screens

New screens that will enable court audience to have more view of proceedings have all been mounted in all courtrooms of the Supreme Court.‎‎

 

One problem the country has yet to get right is maintaining and sustaining infrastructures put in place by successive governments. Except there is a conscious plan on the part of the Supreme Court to maintain these facilities, keeping this state of the art equipment functioning will turn out to be a great challenge.