Adesina Ademola Ogunlana was the immediate past Chairman of the Ikeja Branch of the Nigerian Bar Association. He is now leader of Citizens Rally Against Oppression (CR). This organisation is mobilising efforts against the proposed amendments to the High Court of Lagos State (Civil Procedure) Rules which are set to come into effect in 2019.
Mr. Ogunlana explains why some of the provisions being proposed should be shelved.
Why is CR against the proposed new Rules?
We are opposing the proposed new Rules because the new proposals amount to ignoring leprosy but fighting ringworm. The aim of the proposed rules is to speed up administration of justice and this in itself is laudable. But to achieve that, they want to introduce punitive fees but the fundamental problem is that Judges are not enough. We have about 59 Judges to a population of about 20 million people! I raised this issue when I was the Chairman of the Ikeja Bar.
They want to introduce what, to use our language, amount to highly extractive fees. For example, N1,000 as daily default fees, that is if there is something you didn’t do within the time allowed, then you are going to be charged N1,000 per day until you are able to take the required action. How many people can afford that? If a lawyer is unable to attend a trial, he would be asked to pay N100,000 or N50,000 if it was a Motion he was not able to proceed with. Agreed that some of our colleagues can be tardy, but one would have thought that such punitive measures would only be resorted to where tardiness has become a trend, for example when a lawyer has been guilty of such default, not on the first occasion but maybe on a second occasion and there is no good excuse. What of unforeseen causes, like if it is unsafe or atimes impossible to move in town?
But the Federal High Court?
Yes that is the precedent being cited, that the Federal High Court has already introduced N1,000 as daily default penalty but that cannot be an example for the Lagos State High Court. You must remember that Courts like the Federal High Court and National Industrial Court were set up specifically as commercial Courts. The Lagos State High Court cannot be compared to those Courts. The Lagos State High Court handles land matters and other civil matters that touch on the lives of the generality of the people and justice cannot be commercialised.
Have you seen the draft Rules?
No, I have not. Have you? They are hiding the proposed new Rules just like they were hiding the Land Use Charge Law. The current Ikeja Bar Chairman reported at the last meeting that the Ikeja Bar had written to Justice Alogba, the Chairman of the Rules Review Committee but the document has not been made available.
Was the NBA not part of the Committee that reviewed the Rules?
I can tell you authoritatively that no member of the NBA is a member of the Committee.
We understand you are having a protest on this issue on Thursday?
Yes, we want to present a protest letter to the Chief Judge on Thursday 15th November 2018. It is going to be a guided and informed protest. We will gather at a designated place, robed and then we will march to the CJ office to present the letter. If they listen to us, fine but if not, we will then take other steps.
Do you think people are sufficiently mobilised for this protest?
It is not really about numbers but about the quality of persons who are participating. However, many people have indicated their interest in joining us in this effort.
We understand the NBA Ikeja has set up a Committee to come up with a position on the draft Rules, likewise the Lagos Branch?
Yes the Ikeja Bar set up a Committee on this issue but I won’t like to comment on the work of the Committee for obvious reasons.
Since the NBA is already looking into the issues, is your organisation not pre-empting the NBA?
What do you mean by pre-empting? Am I not a Lawyer? Don’t I have the constitutional right to protest on any issue? Do I even have to be a lawyer to be concerned about this issue? At the end of the day, the matter is not just about lawyers but about the people who will find it difficult to have access to justice because of the fees. Everybody should be concerned about this matter.
Exactly how much are the new fees to be introduced?
Nobody knows exactly how much the new fees would be since the proposed new Rules have not been made available. But we had an indication from the Chief Judge at the Town Hall meeting which the Judiciary organised on the proposed Rules. That was where the Chief Judge said that the last time the fees were reviewed was in early 2000s and she then asked whether lawyers have been charging the same fees since then? So, it was the way the Chief Judge reacted to the issue about fees that gave the indication that the fees would be commercialised.