The Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, has called on other states in the federation to follow the Lagos State Judiciary directives that were announced in an effort to prevent the possibility of the court houses in the state becoming centers for the spread of the dreaded coronavirus.
NBA President, Paul Usoro, SAN, in a statement, yesterday, said “For those who may not have read the Lagos State Judiciary’s statement, entries to court premises in the state are now limited only to persons who need “to file urgent matters/applications. In all cases, only parties whose cases are to be heard, their witnesses and counsel, will be allowed into the court room at any sitting time, subject to a maximum of 20 persons all together. In the court rooms, persons shall keep a distance of at least one meter to each other, as recommended by the World Health Organization, WHO.
“The Chief Judge’s statement further stipulates that, “in criminal matters, only remand/bail applications and overnight cases will be heard” while “in civil matters, only ex-parte and urgent applications (and) adoption of written address will be entertained”. In addition, “judgments and rulings will be read”. “These directives complement the Federal and Lagos State Governments’ directives for preventing the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. Incidentally, the Lagos Judiciary Directives may have been overtaken by the Lagos State Government Directive of today which imposes a stay-at-home order on the State’s civil servants on Grade Levels 01 to 12.
“In point of fact, we are inclined to recommend a more drastic and immediate shutdown of the courts, particularly in cities with large densities such as Abuja, Lagos, Port Harcourt, Kano etc., pending further directives from the Nigerian Center for Disease Control. To illustrate the point that we make, one of the oft-repeated advisories for preventing the infection with and spread of COVID-19 is constant and repeated hand washing with soap over running water.
“How many of our court houses in the federation have wash-hand basins, with soap and constant running water, if at all, for the use of members of the public who visit court premises daily for one business or the other? Those who have – and they must be pretty few – do they have them in sufficient numbers for the crowd we routinely have in our court complexes?
“The truth is, our public buildings are abysmally deficient in these basic necessities and it is in consideration of that fact, amongst others, that we urge all the heads of courts, both federal and states, to seriously contemplate the possibility of, at the minimum, drastically limiting the permissible businesses of the courts to the most urgent in this period of global medical emergency, similar to the Lagos Judiciary directive.
“Even those urgent matters must be paced out in a manner that limited number of matters are heard by any court on any day in order to minimize and manage the number of persons in our court rooms and allow, as much as possible, for the maximum recommended number of 20 persons and the social distance of 1-meter in-between persons.
“Even as we recommend these drastic limitations in the permissible businesses of the courts per day at these times, we must mention that some of our court rooms are so tiny and ill-ventilated such that persons in those court rooms are traditionally packed like sardines. That is a perfect scenario for the spread of COVID-19.”