Federal High Court Adopts Virtual Proceedings


•Endorses use of Zoom, Skype, WhatsApp, email

Davidson Iriekpen

The Federal High Court has authorised judges to adopt virtual proceedings for cases in all its judicial divisions nationwide.

The Chief Judge of the court, Justice John Tsoho, gave the new direction titled: ‘Practice Directions 2020 for the COVID-19 Period,’ which became effective from yesterday.

However, the new rules provide that the proceedings could only be held virtually with the consent of parties and their counsel.
Also, under the new rules, judges could not hear more than nine cases in a day.

As at July last year, there were 36 divisions of the Federal High Court nationwide with 82 judges to hear over 200,000 pending cases.
“Virtual proceeding is hereby adopted for adjudication in the Federal High Court.

“Virtual proceedings can be either by Zoom, Skype or any other audio-visual platform approved by the court,” the CJ said.
Where parties and counsel agree to virtual proceedings in a case, he directed them to liaise with the court’s registrar to schedule the hearings.
Cases for virtual proceedings shall then be stated on the Cause List, posted on the court’s website and communicated to counsel and parties, either by e-mail or any other electronic means.

The judge and counsel in such proceedings must also be robed.
The notice also addressed growing calls for technology to be infused in court proceedings.
“Service of court processes may be effected by e-mails, WhatsApp or as may be directed by the court, and shall be deemed as good service.
“Service of hearing notices may be effected by e-mail, WhatsApp, text messages or as may be directed by the court
“The print out of same shall be sufficient proof of service,” it said.

In keeping with federal and states COVID-19 regulations, the chief judge also made the wearing of face masks and maintaining of social distancing mandatory.

“Face masks must be properly worn by everyone within the court premises to cover their mouths and noses at all times.
“Every person within the premises of the court and inside the court room shall observe the requirement of social and physical distancing of not less than two metres (six feet) apart from each other.

“At any given time, there shall not be a congregation of more than 10 within the court premises, except for purposes of court sittings.
“There shall not be more than 20 persons inside the court room, including the court staff and counsel at court sittings,” he said.

Justice Tsoho was a member of the 10-man committee recently set up by the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) Justice Tanko Ibrahim Muhammad.
The committee, headed by Justice Olabode Rhodes-Vivour, was to come up with urgent practical strategic measures to ensure courts continue to function despite the lockdown and restrictions arising from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The committee, which submitted its report penultimate week, recommended far-reaching guidelines for the smooth running of courts during the pandemic, including but not limited to the use of appropriate technology for virtual or remote hearings.

However, THISDAY had exclusively reported that some judges were opposed to the virtual courts’ sittings, saying it was unconstitutional.
It was gathered that many of the judges, particularly at the high court level and the Court of Appeal, were of the view that there are constitutional hurdles to cross before Nigeria could adopt a system of remote hearing of cases.