COVID-19: NJC approves virtual court sittings in new guidelines for use of technology

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With the COVID-19 pandemic unrelenting, the National Judicial Council (NJC) has approved virtual sittings for all head of courts using collaborative platforms such as MS365, Zoom, Google Meetings and other tools with electronic recording functionalities.

A statement by the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Tanko Muhammad, said the new National Judicial Council COVID-19 Policy Report: Guidelines for Court Sittings and Related Matters in the COVID-19 Period allows for the use of technology in order to achieve speedy dispensation of justice for the period of pandemic.

Also, social media channels would be used to live stream court proceedings to the public while the court shall publish on a weekly basis the matters that would be heard remotely for that week, according to the published guidelines.

Read the full guidelines here. See excerpts of the guidelines below.

GUIDELINES FOR COURT SITTINGS AND RELATED MATTERS IN THE COVID-19 PERIOD

At its 91st Meeting held on the 22nd day of April, 2020, the National Judicial Council constituted a Committee to devise guidelines and measures to enable safe Court sittings during this challenging period of the Coronavirus Pandemic and areas of necessary cooperation with the Office of the Attorney-General of the Federation and others in meeting the challenges.

2. The Committee headed by the Hon. Justice Olabode Rhodes-Vivour, JSC, CFR, submitted the Report to me on Wednesday, the 6th day of May, 2020 with the Formulated Guidelines attached herewith.

3. All Heads of Courts are therefore to be guided by the attached Guidelines in adopting or formulating, Rules, Directives and Guidelines, as appropriate to the legal and material circumstances of their Courts, with a view to achieving the goal of safely delivering justice in these unprecedented challenging times.

4. Furthermore, I have directed the Judicial Information Technology Policy Committee (JITPCO), of the Council to urgently set-up a Helpdesk for Courts that may require handholding in adopting and utilizing the technological tools suggested in the guidelines. Reach them on 0809 999 1212 ad [email protected]

5. In further entrenchment of Court Technology Solutions, State governments be implored to provide the resources for State Judiciaries to commence utilization of Nigerian Case Management System (NCMS). This electronic solution is already developed by the Council and the Supreme Court and Court of Appeal have commenced uploading their backlog of cases. I have directed the JITPCO to expand rollout beyond the Pilot Courts and extend to any State that is ready to take off and check all the boxes of the checklist of roll out requirements.

6. Service of processes and Hearing Notices have posed serious challenges resulting in delays. The National Judicial Council took on this and developed a Legal Mail Solutions to address that and enable a workable e-filling solution for our Courts. In the attached guidelines, the current practice is allowed to continue in order to avoid disruption. Heads of Courts and the Bar are however implored to encourage adoption of the Legal Mail so that the comprehensive solution is applied, once and for all times.

7. I have also directed the Secretary of the Council to liaise with the Attorney-General for assistance at resolution with relevant agencies of government, some existing challenges to the implementation of Council’s Information Technology Policy, like addressing the Skillset gap through employment and practicable compensation for such IT Staff as demanded by the prevalent sectoral practice.


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