Bill Seeking to Legalise Virtual Court Proceedings for Second Reading

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Deji Elumoye in Abuja

The constitution alteration bill seeking to legalise virtual court proceedings which passed through the first reading at the Senate last Tuesday is billed for second reading today.

The bill entitled: ‘1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (Alteration) Bill, 2020 (SB. 418)’ sponsored by Senator Opeyemi Bamidele, is aimed at ensuring the much needed corresponding amendment of relevant provisions of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) in giving legal teeth to virtual court proceedings.

Senator Bamidele told THISDAY yesterday that he is ready to lead the debate at plenary today after which other interested senators will air their views on the bill.

He appealed for understanding, as he stressed that the details and general principles of the bill will be exhaustively debated on the floor of the Senate when it comes up for second reading

According to him, copies of the bill had been distributed among senators to enable them study the details ahead of today’s plenary so as to be able to make necessary input to the bill.

If the bill scales through the second reading today, it will be referred to the Senate Committee on Constitutional Review headed by the Deputy President of the Senate, Ovie Omo-Agege, for further legislative duties.

The bill sponsor stated that except the amendment is done urgently to some sections of the 1999 constitution which he hope to outline at plenary today, the whole judicial functions of the country will remain paralysed.

The bill, Bamidele said, being an urgently needed one, needed to be given expeditious consideration and passage.

He recalled that the National Judicial Council (NJC) in the wake of COVID-19 pandemic and the inability of courts to hold courtroom proceedings had taken steps to ensure continued administration of justice through virtual proceedings in accordance with global best practices, with some state Chief Judges coming out to openly adopt and implement the NJC guidelines.

“However, Nigerian lawyers have been divided over this issue as there has been an ongoing debate among legal practitioners as to whether or not virtual hearing is real hearing as provided for in the constitution while some are insisting that the word ‘public’ in the constitution shall continue to mean physical court room or other designated place unless and until the relevant provisions in section 36 of the constitution are amended,” he said.

Bamidele, who is a member of the Body of Benchers and Chairman of the Senate Committee on Judiciary, said in the meantime, the NJC has a responsibility to work with stakeholders to manage the current situation until “we rewrite our constitution in this regard as neither the practice direction, rules of court nor an Act of the National Assembly can change the legal position so that we do not bury our heads in the sand yet again until the sand is blown off by the storm of section 1, subsection 3 (inconsistency clause) of the constitution if and when it is ignited.”