The Lagos state judiciary has approved court hearings remotely through Skype or Zoom taking effect from May 4.
This decision, as declared on Monday by Lagos state chief judge, Kazeem Alogba, stems from the necessity to continue legal activities in spite of lockdown directives and social gathering restrictions in the country.
To support this, other social media channels — such as WhatsApp — and offline messaging can be used to lodge complaints, file cases, pay lawyers, and communicate other necessary details.
This was further established through a draft of the Practice Directions for remote hearing of cases. It was noted in the draft that remote hearing will only apply for urgent, important or time-bound cases like bail applications and similar ones as approved by the chief judge.
On the presentation of documents, “the Court will receive documents for filing electronically. All documents to be filed must be scanned or converted to an appropriate PDF format and forwarded to the Registry via designated email address or whatsapp,” as stated in paragraph 7.
According to paragraph 16, “Remote Hearings shall be by Zoom, Skype for business or any other video communication method approved by the Chief Judge.”
In what looks like a similar trend, the Zimbabwean government earlier introduced live-streaming of cases of public or national interests in January, to promote trust and confidence in the court system.
Apparently, with the lockdown — which excludes essential services in states like Lagos, Ogun, and the FCT — in its 5th week, court activities have also been suspended, pointing to the likelihood of an increase in delayed cases.
It is expected that this palliative to sustain the state’s judiciary will be adopted by other states, especially those with large populations and high crime tendencies.
Even with plans to relax the lockdown by May 4, according to the presidential address, it is yet to be seen how soon Lagos state would be fully restored to normal activities. Perhaps, remote court hearings will be one of the post-pandemic norms which the country will have to accept in coming months.