By Alex Enumah
The Supreme Court on Tuesday struck out two suits by Lagos and Ekiti States challenging the validity and constitutionality of the Virtual Court Sittings procedure.
A seven man panel presided over by Justice Bode Rhodes-Vivour struck out the suits after they were withdrawn by the plaintiffs.
The first suit with number: SC/CV/260/2020 filed by the Attorney General of Lagos State has the Minister of Justice and the Attorney General of the Federation and the National Assembly as the 1st and 2nd defendants respectively.
The Lagos state government in the suit prayed the Supreme Court to determine whether having regard to Section 36(1), (3) and (4) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) use of technology by remote hearings of any kind, whether by Zoom, Microsoft Teams, WhatsApp, Skype or any other audio visual or video-conference platform by the Lagos State High Court or any other Courts in Nigeria in aid of hearing and determination of cases are constitutional.
When the matter came up on Tuesday however, Lagos State Attorney General, Mr Moyosore Onigbanjo SAN, having taken hint from the apex court that the suit was speculative and preemptive withdrew the suit.
Following its withdrawal, the apex court in a unanimous decision struck it out.
However, Justice Rhodes-Vivour in his ruling held that, “As of today virtual sitting is not unconstitutional”.
“This suit is speculative and having been withdrawn, it is struck out”, he said.
The court also struck out a similar suit marked, ‘’SC/CV/261/2020’’ filed by the Attorney General of Ekiti state against the AGF, shortly after the suit was withdrawn.
Just like his Lagos counterpart, the Ekiti State AG, Mr Wale Fapounda, withdrew his suit after taking the hint that the suit was preemptive.
On its part, Ekiti State had challenged the constitutionality of the directive of the Minister of Justice and the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF), Abubakar Malami (SAN), to the Head of Courts at federal and state levels to adopt Virtual Court Sittings in courts.
Fapohunda, in the suit had asked the apex court to issue an order to annul the directive for the adoption of the Virtual or Remote Court sittings for being inconsistent with Section 1(3), 4(6), 5(2), 6(2), 36(3) and (4), 272 and 274 of the 1999 Constitution.
Ekiti State further wants the Supreme Court to determine whether the AGF’s guidelines are not a derogation from the legislative, executive and judicial law-making, law execution and adjudicatory rules making powers exclusively vested in states of the federation in respect of states courts, by virtue of Sections 1(3), 4(6), 5(2), 6(2), 272 and 272 and 274 of the Constitution.
He also prayed the apex court to decide whether Lagos and Ogun state having adopted virtual court hearings pursuant to the lockdown, the three arms of Government in Ekiti State are bound to conduct their legislative, executive and judicial functions pertaining to adjudication in state courts in compliance with the directive upon which the National Judicial Council formulated the provisions of Articles E(1) to E(13) of its Guidelines (issued on May 7, 2020).