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An Appriasal Of The Akwa Ibom State (Civil Procedure Rules) 2009

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MIKE A.A OZEKHOME, SAN, F.ICArb, OFR [*]
 
INTRODUCTION
I must plainly declare that I regard it as a privilege of immense proportion to be requested by His Lordship, the Hon. Justice Idongesit Ntem Bassey Isua, the Honourable Chief Judge of Akwa Ibom State to enter an appearance before eminent jurists and a congregation of some of the most intellectual and hard working minds in Nigeria to deliver a critique of the Akwa Ibom State High Court (Civil Procedure) Rules. I am eternally grateful for such rare opportunity.

 
BRIEF HISTORY OF THE CIVIL PROCEDURE RULES
 
In 1994, the Lord Chancellor instructed the Master of the Rolls, Lord Woolf, to report on options to consolidate the existing rules of Civil Procedure. On 26 th July 1996, Lord Woolf published his “Access to Justice Report, 1996” in which he “…identified a number of principles which the civil justice system should meet to ensure access to justice. The system should:-

 
(a) be just in the results it delivers;
(b) be fair in the way it treats litigants;
(c) offer appropriate procedures at a reasonable cost;

(d) deal with cases with reasonable speed;
(e) be understandable to those who use it;
(f) be responsive to the needs of those who use it;

(g) provide as much certainty as the nature of particular cases allows; and

(h) be effective: adequately resourced and organised.”.

 
Lord Woolf listed two of the requirements of case management as “…fixing timetables for the parties to take particular steps in the case; and limiting disclosure and expert evidence “.

 
The second thread of the report was to control the cost of litigation, both in time and money, by focusing on key issues rather than every possible issue and limiting the amount of work that has to be done on the case.

 
The report was accompanied by draft rules of practice designed to implement Lord Woolf's proposals. These rule: granted wide management powers to the court. It proposed that cases be allocated to one of three tracks depending on their nature, limiting or requiring specific actions; and introduced the concept of proportionality to the costs regime. The Civil Procedure Act 1997 (c. 12) was enacted on 27 th February, 1997 . It conferred the power to make civil procedure rules. It also established the Civil Justice Council , a body composed of members of the judiciary, members of the legal professions and civil servants, and charged with reviewing the civil justice system. The Civil Procedure Rules 1998 (SI 1998/3132) were made on 10 th December, 1998 and came into force on 26 th April, 1999. The draft rules of practice formed their core.

 
 
 
 
 
 
REASONS FOR THE INTRODUCTION OF CIVIL PROCEDURE RULES IN NIGERIA

 
It is a notorious fact that the adversarial system of adjudication is fraught with a myriad of procedural technicalities which in turn, creates a labyrinth of legal obstacles to the fast and effective dispersal of justice. The adversarial process has encouraged an adversarial culture, which has degenerated into an environment in which the process is too often seen as a battlefield where no rules apply. In this environment, questions of delay, expense, compromise and fairness are of low priority. Expense becomes disproportionate and unpredictable. Delay is frequently unreasonable and sometimes, unconscionable. Litigation is often reduced purely to adversarial tactics and where their worst excesses are not controlled, substantive and meritorious issues and claims are wholly sacrificed.

 
The importance of rules to regulate judicial proceedings can be fully appreciated when the lack of it is considered. For instance, where there are no rules to regulate the conducts of litigators and lawyers,  the powers the courts have falls behind the more sophisticated and aggressive tactics of these litigators and their dexterous advocates. Interlocutory hearings increasingly represent tactical skirmishes, aimed at delaying rather than enhancing the progress of the case. Although, proponents of the system, who rigidly crave the status quo to remain ad infnitum are quick to proffer a dose of justification through the aphorism, “the wheel of justice may grind slowly but surely” , they conveniently forget that the maxim that “justice delayed is justice denied”, is more acceptable to Plaintiff/victim, the society and except, perhaps, the Defendant.

 
The truth is that speedy dispensation of justice is a Constitutional mandate which does not require any special justification for doing so, or require to be justified by advancing any reason. Section 6(1) and 6(2) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as altered vests the judicial powers of the Federal and States in our Courts, established for the Federation and each State. Section 6(6)(b) of the Constitution provides that these judicial powers shall extend to all matters between persons or between government or authority and to any person in Nigeria and to all actions and proceedings relating thereto, for the determination of any question as to the civil rights and obligation of that person. This provision of the Constitution was clearly interpreted by Bello J.S.C (as he then was now of blessed memory), in the case of Senator Adesanya V President of Nigeria (1982) 2 NCLR page 358 at 385-386, when he stated thus:

 
“…….. It seems to me that upon the construction of the subsection, it is only when civil rights and obligation of the person who invokes the jurisdiction of the Court are in issue for determination that the judicial powers of the Court may be invoked.”

 
What the above provisions and dictum of the apex Court stipulates in the simplest of terms therefore, is that the Courts are established as a forum for the resolution of legal disputes between persons, including government. It is based on this jurisprudential foundation that the Constitution under Section 236, gave Heads of Courts, that is, the Chief Judges, etc, power to make rules of Court on practice and procedure that will ensure better administration of justice in their respective jurisdiction. Thus, the institution or agency most empowered and vested with the power to bring a change and redress the battered and dysfunctional civil justice system is the Judiciary itself. The reason for this is not far fetched. It is simply because most of the factors responsible for the congestion in the Court like trial delays, unnecessary adjournments, complexities in the rules of the Court are matters under the control of the judiciary itself and if there is anyone that knows how to bring a remedy for better image of the Judiciary, it will be the dramatis personae themselves.

 
In this country, most judicial branches in States and Federal Courts, have made or are on  the verge of making rules of the court in question that will usher in and ultimately foster a regime of speedy administration of justice while consciously jettisoning the ancient approach where justice is viewed as an odyssey through a magnifying societal spectroscope.  Before 2004, the general approach in the country to resolving the many challenges in the administration of our civil justice system where founded on a wrong perspective because the reasons for the litany of problems leading to delay of justice was misplaced. Initially, there was a tumultuous and near-cacophonous clamour for the number of judges to be increased; after that, the issue of emoluments was championed. While the increase in remuneration of judges helped to motivate and put the adjudicating judge in the right frame of mind, the issue of employing more judges helped to lessen the work load on the judiciary. However, the cardinal issue remained unscathed, like immune leviathan, in that no matter the increase in remuneration and further appointment of judges, their Lordships could dispense justice only in accordance with the powers donated unto them by the procedural adjudicatory rules. They could only exercise powers they have be given by law and nothing more.

 
Painting a sad picture of the workings of the judicial system then, Dr. R. Akinola Aguda in his book, “The Crisis of Justice” (1986), dilated most profoundly, thus:

 
“The present incredibly slow process of judicial administration is frightening and oppressive…… A judicial system which can permit a simple case, for example one of wrongful termination of employment to remain in the Courts for over five years cannot be said to be running smoothly. Whatever happens at the end of such an aberration of Court trial can hardly be said to be justice… Our present system of judicial administration is a bankrupt system, and it is very sad indeed that no government from independence in 1960 to this moment has ever made any conscious effort to re-organize or modernize this bankrupt system. It is an inexplicable irony that whilst some of our other smaller sister countries in the so-called Third World are taking giant steps in the technological age of the 21st century, we are satisfied to continue to wallow in the stinking stenches of the 19th.”

 
Going by the damning verdict of the learned author above, it is therefore refreshing to see a radical overhaul of the entire adjudicatory procedure in the various states of the federation. That Akwa Ibom State has joined the league of states which have introduced and operate civil procedure rules goes to show, that the state is a progressively minded state which does not kowtow in aberrant ritual genuflections, or to undue and unnecessary straightjacket procedural conventionalism whose only outcome in systems that practice it, has been stunted and fixed adjudicatory growth. To this end, I lavishly congratulate the entire judicial branch as competently led and pre-eminently presided over by the Honourable Chief Judge of Akwa Ibom State, -the jurisprudentially cerebral Justice Idongesit Ntem Bassey Isua, who, in all humility, can be properly described in two latin phrases viz- nullus secondus (second to none) and primus inter peres (first amongst equals)!  We salute you, Your Ladyship. Let us now turn to the Akwa Ibom States (Civil Procedure) Rules, 2009, to see how far justice has been brought nearly the people through their introduction.

 
SOME HIGH POINTS OF THE AKWA IBOM STATE (CIVIL PROCEDURE) RULES 2009

 
FRONT-LOADING
 
Order 3 Rule 2 of the Akwa Ibom State (Civil Procedure) Rules, 2009 (referred hereafter to as AKS CPR 2009), provides for front loading of documents. Front-loading is a term used to describe the act of producing the oral and documentary evidence required in the prosecution of a case or its defence at the onset of the case and not having to get to trial before doing so. In the case of OLANIYAN V. OYEWOLE (2008) 5 NWLR (PT. 1079) 114 AT P. 138, PARAS. D-F , the Court of Appeal, dissected the philosophy behind the concept of front loading thus:

 
“In introducing the front loading system, that is, the upfront filing of all documents to be used at the trial, the intention of the maker of the rules of court is to ensure that only serious and committed litigants with prima facie good cases and witnesses to back up their claims would come to court and fewer lame duck claims would find their way into court. However, there must be a happy medium between balancing the public interest to reduce unnecessary and frivolous claims as against the constitutional right of a party to have his legal counsel conduct his case as he thinks fit.”

 
Justice Agube, J.CA. was more explicit when he put it in the following way:

 
There is no doubt that the philosophy behind frontloading procedure is to quicken the dispensation of justice and that Judges of the High Court where such procedure is adopted are no longer adjudicators and/or umpires or interested in the trial of disputes in the court room only, but have become managerial Judges who must effectually utilize the technique and tool of case management and judicial control to achieve/facilitate just, efficient and speedy dispensation of justice.

 
Also, in the case of GAMBARI AND ANOR V. MAHMUD AND ANOR, (APPEAL NO. CA/IL/38/2006, DELIVERED ON MAY 11, 2009) the rationale for the concept was dilated upon, thus:

 
The rationale for the statutory endorsement of this concept is that through its espousal the configuration and delineation of the contours of forensic contests may be attained with considerable facility such that their resolution could be achieved at the earliest opportunity and with minimal costs. The ultimate objectives of this technique, and the other equally innovative features of the rules, are for the evolution of a user friendly trial procedure in which the Judge can effectively and efficiently manage the flow of cases in the court.

 
There is no doubt that the adoption of the front loading system has accelerated the speed with which cases are handled by lawyers, reduced manipulations by litigants and enhanced controll of the adjudicatory process by judges. Apart from the very fact that front loading is highly effective in speeding up the adjudicatory process, it dilutes the extreme “adversariness” in our adversary system since it limits the propensity for “shock and awe” by radically curtailing its cardinal instrument of “surprise” gleefully employed by litigants and their counsel. By compelling the claimant “to place all his cards on the table”, front loading also aims at affording the defendant “the full knowledge and adequate notice of the case of the claimant”. In this way, delays in trials are avoided. That is one way of attaining the objective of speedy administration of justice under the new rules. Thus, what the AKS CPR 2009, has done under Order 3 Rule 2 and Order 17 Rule 1, is to simply give less room for time-wasting manoeuvrings by technically-minded litigants and their counsel.

 
PRE-TRIAL CONFERENCE
 
As the name suggests, the Pre-trial Conference is a conference of parties and their counsel and it is brokered by a judge designated as a “Pre-trial Conference Judge”. The duty of a Judge at the pre-trial conference is that of case management. The concept was defined by the Court of Appeal in the case of AFRIBANK NIGERIA PLC V. UBANA(2011) LPELR-3632(CA) thus: “A pre-trial conference is an informal meeting at which opposing attorneys (counsel) confer with the judge, to work toward the disposition of the case by discussing matters of evidence and narrowing the issues that will be tried. The conference takes place shortly before trial and ordinarily results in a pre-trial order .” Thus, pre-trial conference is a case-management mechanism that enables the pre-trial judge to assume adequate control over the proceedings preparatory to trial.

 
Under the AKS CPR 2009, Order 25, Rules 1-7 makes elaborate provision for the procedure to be adopted during pre-trial conference. From the phraseology employed under Order 25 Rule 2, of the objectives of the pre-trial conference, there is no doubt  that, unlike the old practice regarding “Summons for Direction”, this has been perpetually laid to rest. Under Order 25 Rule 3, the judge is mandated to consider and take appropriate action with effect to such matters as listed therein. The pre-trial conference was generally designed to be controlled, not by Counsel or the litigants, but by the judges themselves. In summing up the essence of the procedure of pre-trial conference, the distinguished and cerebral Justice Chima C. Nweze, (J.C.A. as he then was), (Chima C. Nweze: ' Redefining Advocacy in Contemporary Legal Practice: A Judicial Perspective), opined, among others, thus:

 
It is expected that every pre-trial Judge will maximally utilize the techniques of pre-trial conference for the effectuation of the objectives of the rules. It cannot be otherwise. After all, there are both general and special provisions in the rules all geared towards the actualization of the objective of the speedy disposal of matters

 
LIMITATION OF ORAL EVIDENCE-IN-CHIEF
 
Limitation of oral evidence-in-chief is, perhaps, the most time saving provision of the rules. The provision of Order 32 Rule 1 is to the effect that witness oral testimony during his evidence in chief shall be limited to confirming his written deposition and tendering in evidence all disputed documents or other exhibits referred to in the deposition. All agreed documents and other exhibits are to be tendered from the bar or by the party where he is not represented by a legal practitioner. This provision limiting the evidence- in-chief of a witness to confirming his deposition has several advantages as it saves a considerable time particularly in suits where the facts are complex, scientific, and mathematical, or by its nature disposed to lengthy facts, as is the case with chieftaincy and land matter. The effect of stage-fright is reduced in the case of witnesses of truth who are otherwise disadvantaged not being accustomed to court environment, or, not being oratorical.

 
COMPULSORY WRITTEN ADDRESSES
 
Another provision in the rules that fast tracks the proceedings deal with compulsory written addresses by counsel as enshrined under Order 31. These seem to apply to all applications and upon the conclusion of the trial. Counsel no longer has the liberty to employ court room filibuster to delay cases according to the sophistical sway of his “oratory prowess”. He must speak law and not painstakingly contoured grammatical persuasion only. Consequently, addresses must contain a brief statement of facts, the issues arising from the evidence and a statement of argument on each issue incorporating the purport of the authorities referred to, together with full citation of each such authority. This procedure has remarkably condensed the life span of case determination in the Nigerian Court system as time is saved by eliminating endless recording of addresses, which in some cases are lengthy and cumbersome. In the case of Gwar v. Adole [2003] 3 NWLR (Pt.808)516.the Court of Appeal, held, per Mangaji, JCA, as follows:

 
“It must be realised that the aim of filing written addresses in court, is primarily to save time and obviate unnecessary delay in the administration of justice. The reverse certainly is the end result if an order to file addresses is made and it is insisted that after filing it learned counsel will have to appear to present it viva voce. That obviously cannot be a measure meant to save time and enhance speedy trial. “

 
 
JUDICIAL CONTROL
 
In addition to the above specific rules, the Rules also provide for the Judge to take active control of all proceedings. Order 27 Rule 13 provides as follows:

 
If it shall appear to the Judge that there is any undue delay in the prosecution of any proceedings, the Judge may require the party having the conduct of the proceeding to explain the delay and may thereupon make such order with regard to expediting the proceedings or the conduct thereof, or the stay thereof and as to the costs of the proceedings as the circumstances of the case may require; and for the purposes aforesaid any party may be directed to summon the persons whose attendance is required, and to conduct any proceeding and carry out directions which are given”.

 
COMMEDABLE INNOVATIONS IN THE AKS CPR, 2009
 
SUITS COMMENCED IN WRONG JUDICIAL DIVISION
 
Order 2 Rule 5 provides as follows:
 
If any suit is commenced in the wrong Judicial Division, it may be tried in that Division unless the Chief Judge otherwise directs.

 
The above provision is a replication, de verbo in verborum the provision of Order 2 Rule 5 of the Lagos State (Civil Procedure) Rules, 2012 and Order 9 Rule 5 of the Federal Capital Territory (Civil Procedure) Rules, 2004. However, the provision of Order 2 Rule 6 of the AKS CPR 2009, is an innovation that is neither found in the Lagos or FCT Rules. It provides as follows:

 
Where the Court is satisfied that the cause or matter before it is within the jurisdiction of the Federal High Court, the Court shall transfer the cause matter to the Federal High Court in the State or that covers the State.

 
There is no doubt that the purport of the above provision is both to save time and money, since if such matter is struck out instead of such transfer, the litigant will lose time and will also have to pay fresh sums of money for filing and other ancillary purposes. Again, where the matter is that which is caught by the limitation law, the act of re-fling after time for instituting an action has elapsed will be of profound detriment to the litigant. To this end, this AKS CPR 2009, is to be commended.

 
E – SERVICE
 
Under Order 17 Rule 14 , it is provided that:
 
(1) It shall be lawful, where parties give consent, to effect service of processes by electronic means, hereinafter referred to as E-SERVICE Every process of court produced and/or transmitted electronically by means of internet services, e-mail, world wide web (www) and similar devices shall be deemed to have been served by that process, upon confirmation by the electronic device that the information or process had been sent or delivered, after forty-eight (48) hours, with or without acknowledgement-of the addressee

 
 (2) The print-out shall be evidence of such confirmation.

 
This is one of the most progressive and modern provisions in any Nigerian High Court Civil Procedure Rules in that even the trail blazers (as it were), of the Civil Procedure Rules, – Lagos and the FCT do not have equivalent provision. Since the world is rapidly more capitalist and the internet has emerged as a major tool for commercial transactions, the utilitarian importance of provisions like that of  Order 17 Rule 14 cannot be over-emphasised, especially if we consider the fact that a transaction may take place  in Akwa Ibom, is instituted in the High Court for adjudication, while the residence of the Parties is outside jurisdiction.

 
 
CRITICISM OF SOME PROVISIONS IN THE AKS CPR 2009
 
As excellent as the AKS CPR 2009, are, it is due for a quick review for some of the reasons stated below.

 
ADR MADE OPTIONAL
 
The modern trend generally, is to move away from strict litigation to Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR). A careful perusal of the AKS ADR Rules will reveal that while there is a robust provision as to ADR, such provision loses its teeth by giving a wide discretion to a claimant, as to whether or not to choose the option of ADR. For instance, Order 1 of the Akwa Ibom State Multi-door Courthouse Rules states that “any person or persons shall commence an ADR process by filing a written Request at the Akwa Ibom Multi-Door Court or by completing a Request Form (Form A).” Although, the rule is commendable in one respect in that where a claimant chooses to commence an action by ADR, even where the Respondent/Defendant is not inclined to submitting to the jurisdiction of the ADR court, the judge under Order 22 of the Rules has the discretion to order that such ADR continues to a logical conclusion.

 
Now, under Order 5 Rule 1 of the Rules, a judge of a High Court can refer any matter before it to ADR. As excellent as this provision is, it is our submission that the machinery of justice will be speedier if a judge trying a matter will not be placed under the burden of sifting which of the cases before him is suitable for ADR, or otherwise. It is further submitted that submission to ADR should be a perequisite to adjudication over any matter. Such matters therefore can be screened by the registry at the point of filing in order to determine which matter is best suited for ADR and which one should go straight to trial. For example, promotion of ADR as a dispute resolution mechanism is a prominent feature in the 2012 Lagos State (Civil Procedure) Rules. Before the new rules were enacted, it was the provision that disputing parties should, where the circumstance dictate, attempt ADR, just like it is in the present Akwa Ibom State (Civil Procedure) Rules, 2009.

 
In an attempt to tackle the backlog of cases in Lagos Courts, the High Court of Lagos State (Civil Procedure) Rules, 2012, (the 2012 Rules), have replaced strong encouragement to attempt ADR with mandatory ADR. Under the 2004 rules, disputing parties are required to consider alternative means of settling the issues between them, and where they are desirous of doing so, the court may refer them to an appropriate ADR centre. The 2012 Rules departed from this and now make it almost compulsory. Specifically Order 3 Rule 11 provides that:

 
“All originating processes shall upon acceptance for filing by the Registry be screened for suitability for ADR and referred to Lagos Multi Door Court house or other appropriate ADR institutions or practitioners in accordance with the Practice directions that shall from time to time be issued by the Chief Judge of Lagos State.”

 
It is submitted that an amendment or incorporation of the above principle as enacted by the Chief Judge of Lagos State in the Civil Procedure Rules to the Akwa Ibom State Rules, will, without doubt, ease High-Court docket congestion. It must also be noted by way of observation, that the court official that will be directly responsible for the screening of the newly filed cases for suitability for ADR was not named in the new Rules. Akwa Ibom State can go a step further by designating a person for such job of screening ADR compliant matters.

 
REQUIREMENT OF COUNTER-AFFIDAVIT IN CONTESTED APPLICATION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

 
Order 11 Rule 4 of the 2004 Lagos High Court (Civil Procedure) Rules provides that where a defendant wants to contest an application for summary judgment, he should file specified court processes, the same as has been replicated by the Akwa Ibom State High Court Rules.

 
Order 11 Rule 4 of the Akwa Ibom State (Civil Procedure) rules provides that:

 
Where a party served with the processes and documents referred to in Rule 1 of this Order intends to defend the suit he shall, not later than the time prescribed for defence, file:

 
(a) His statement of defence,
(b) Depositions of his witnesses,
(c) A written brief in reply to the application for summary judgment.

 
There is no doubt that an application for summary judgment is made by motion, supported by an affidavit. It is trite that in law, the proper way to respond to an affidavit is by way of counter-affidavit, since the law is that in the absence of any counter-affidavit, it is trite that a respondent is deemed to have admitted all the averments deposed to in the affidavit supporting the motion – See ALAGBE V ABIMBOLA (1978) 2 SC 39 AND NIGERCHIN IND. LTD V OLADEHIN (2006) 13 NWLR (PT. 998) 536 AT 549. Thus, the provision that a respondent replies an affidavit with a statement of defence is a serious lacuna in this rules that must be remedied. For example, Order 11 Rule 4 of the Lagos State Civil Procedure Rules 2004 which was a replicated in Order 11 Rule 4 of Akwa Ibom State (Civil Procedure) Rules, 2009, did not expressly provide for the filing of an affidavit in reply to the claimant's application for summary judgment. This 'lacuna' became evident when the issue arose (in a few decided cases) as to the propriety of the defendant not filing a counter affidavit to contradict the averments in the claimant's affidavit so that such uncontroverted averments shall not be deemed as admitted by the court.

 
The ambiguity in the provision of the 2004 Lagos Rules had to be taken as far as the Court of Appeal, Lagos Division, in the case of PASTOR IKENNA NNABUDE & ANOR. V G.N GODISCOY (W/A) LTD(2010) 15 NWLR (PT. 1216) P 365,   for adjudication. The appellants had argued that the High Court's judgment was predicated on an erroneous presumption that the rules require the filing of a counter affidavit. The respondent contended differently. Its position being that Order 11 Rule 4 of the 2004 Rules did not dispense a party from filing a counter affidavit.  Earlier, at the trial court, the learned trial judge noted that as no counter affidavit was filed by the defendants/respondents challenging the facts contained in the affidavit in support of the claimant's application, 'the evidence ought to be admitted and relied upon on a minimum of proof'. In a judgment delivered on the 8th day of July, 2010, the Court of Appeal held that the defendants complied with the well set out requirements of Order 11 Rule 4 of the Rules, as the Rules did not provide that the defendant should file a counter affidavit in addition to the statement of defence.

 
Going by this obviously unintended meaning and interpretation of Order 11 Rule 4 in the above case by the Court of Appeal, the very clear provision of Order 11 Rule 4 (d) of the Lagos State Civil Procedure Rules, 2012, leaves no room for conflicting or diverse interpretations on the question. In the new rules, where a defendant intends to defend an application for summary judgment, the rule under reference now expressly specifies the filing of a counter affidavit in addition to the other specified processes in Order 11 Rule 4 of the Rules. It provides thus:

 
Where a party served with the processes and documents referred to in Rule 1 of this Order intends to defend the suit he shall, not later than the time prescribed for defence, file:

 
(a) His statement of defence;
 
(b) Depositions of his witnesses,
 
(c) Exhibits to be used in his defence and
 
(d) A written brief in reply to the application for summary judgment.

It is hereby strongly recommended that this progressively minded Akwa Ibom State Judiciary reflect the above by way of amendment or incorporation into the next Rule.

 
FAST TRACK OF MATTERS
 
In April 2010, the United Kingdom updated its Civil Procedure Rules and made important changes. The most significant was the introduction of the Electronic Working Scheme which provided for the electronic filing of court documents. The Electronic Working Scheme allows for a large proportion of litigations to be conducted electronically in Admiralty, Commercial and London Mercantile Courts, Technology and Construction courts, Chancery Division of the Royal Courts of Justice (including the Patents Court and the Bankruptcy and Companies Courts). The Rules apply to any claims including Arbitration and Admiralty Proceedings started on or after 1 April 2010 and which have already been commenced electronically under the earlier pilot scheme. The scheme provides for electronic filing of Claim Forms, Particulars of Claim, Defences and several other documents. The new scheme changed the ways documents are dealt with by the courts:

 
(1) Electronic filing can take place 24/7 on any day of the year;

 
(2) Forms only need to be filed once, without paper copies required in most cases, and automatic acknowledgements will be sent by e-mail and

 
(3) The court encourages parties to send all communications to the court and each other by e-mail and it is all assumed that parties are content to accept service of documents by e-mail

It is to be noted that there is no equivalent provision to Order 56 of the Lagos State Civil Procedure Rules in the Akwa Ibom State (Civil Procedure) Rules, regarding the idea of fast tracking matters in the court. Under Order 56 Rule 1 of the 2012 Lagos Rules, the main objective of the Fast Track Court is stated to be the reduction the time spent on litigation to a period not exceeding nine months from the commencement of the action till final judgment. The Fast Track Procedure seeks to improve commercial dispute resolution by speedy litigation where the claim is for a liquidated monetary claim or counter-claim, or involve mortgage transaction, charge and other securities.- Order 56 Rule 2(2). Fast track of matters can be best done be employing technological advantage to the fullest. To this end, the proposal by the Lagos State Judiciary to commence Electronic filing will ultimately enhance the fast track of cases. Akwa Ibom State Judiciary can blaze the trail (just as it did with E-SERVICE), by incorporating fast track provisions in the next amended Civil Procedure Rules.

 
CONCLUSION
 
The demand for justice is a quest for fairer, speedier, more cost effective and qualitative justice. The reality we face is that the observance of civil law reform should be sensitive to global and national changes and will always be a work in progress. Every stakeholder in the legal and judicial advancement of the procedure adopted by the Akwa Ibom State Judiciary has a tremendous opportunity to re-invent our administration of justice system, and to resuscitate our judicial institutions. It is common knowledge that the various Civil Procedure Rules presently operational in the various High Courts in Nigeria, have their faucet origo from the ground breaking reforms of Lord Woolf of England and it's overall impact on Justice Administration cannot be denied.

 
With the lessons learnt from the errors and lacunas inherent in all previous rules, any new Civil Procedure Rules evolving from this foundation will undoubtedly create the framework for the development of our own jurisprudence. In order to create a viable Judicial System, nothing short of periodic reforms of the rules of court through the setting up and establishment of a standing committee for Law Reforms or Law Review, for the effective and timely amendments of the Rules to eliminate bottlenecks and ensure the smooth running of the Judicial System in consonance with current realities, the dove tailing of Rules and Procedure and creation of effective links between Rules, practice directives, protocols and forms, pursued with vigour and passion, will suffice.

 
Gentlemen of the Bar and the Bench, I have no doubt that given the progressive zeal the Akwa Ibom State Judiciary has demonstrated by her inimitable provisions in the 2009 Rules, the State judiciary is set to becoming the legal pathfinder in the enactment of far-reaching and positively affecting Rules that other States will pry into and lift, for incorporation into and advancement of their own rules. So shall it be, amen.

 
I thank you all.
 
 
 
[*] Chief Mike A. A. Ozekhome, SAN, OFR, FCIArb
LL.D, D.Litt, DA, HonDL, Ph.D, HonMA, (HC), LL.M, LL.B (Hons), BL, KSM, FNIM, AMNIPR, F.ITMN, F.ICA, F.AES, F.chMC, FNIER,  LFIBA

 
 
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