By Chidi Nkwopara -Owerri
Imo State parades over 80 magistrates, but a good number of them have no individual court halls and chambers.
The Acting Chief Judge of Imo State, Justice Ijeoma Agugua, disclosed this in a 21-page address, delivered in Owerri, during the 2020/2021 Legal Year and Assizes of the state judiciary.
Her words: “We have over 80 magistrates. A good number of them have no individual court halls and chambers.
“On my resumption of office in March this year, I met a sordid state of magistrates daily sharing court halls and chambers, with time allocated to each.
“This arrangement not only gave rise to strife, when a magistrate could not rise on the dot of the stipulated time, but it also reduced the dignity of the office of a magistrate.
“The affected magistrates now sit on alternate days, affording them the opportunity of a whole day in chambers and court halls unhampered by time constraint, to conduct their cases freely.”
Continuing, Justice Agugua said that no fewer than 225,240 cases are pending in Imo State High Court, as at September 1, 2020.
Giving details of the cases, Justice Agugua said that while 209,406 cases were pending as at October 1, 2019, and 16,254 fresh cases filed, “420 cases were disposed in the High Court, from October 1, 2019, to September 1, 2020”.
After rolling out the staggering figures of filed, disposed and pending cases before the Customary Court of Appeal, magistrate courts, Agugua said: “What emerges from the statistical data, is that the number of cases pending in both the High Court and the Customary Court of Appeal, is on the high side.
“The people of Imo State, are litigious people. The number of judges and magistrates, manning these courts have increased since the last Legal Year, but then, we all know the effect of Covid-19 pandemic and total lockdown, which started March 2020, on the productivity of the nation. The courts were not exempted.”
Speaking also, the Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Sir C. O. C. Akaolisa, opined that “there is the need for a paradigm shift in the administration of justice through the deployment of appropriate technologies, to drive the administration of justice in the state”.
He also encouraged judicial officers to be cautious in granting remand orders, except in exceptional cases, subject to the guidelines to be put in place by the Ministry of Justice and the Nigerian Correctional Service.
“Alternative Dispute Resolutions, ADR, or out of court settlements should be encouraged in the state in non-contentious civil cases.
“There is need to give greater attention to plea bargaining option, within the context of Section 270 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015”, Akaolisa said.
For the Senior Advocates of Nigeria, SAN, the country is being run in breach of the nation’s statutes.
Chief Mike Ahamba, SAN, who spoke on behalf of his colleagues, particularly mentioned the non-payment of pension and gratuity, as one of the critical areas where the Constitution is flouted without qualms.