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Ondo State has been giving serious attention to the administration of justice in the state. In the last three years, the justice sector has witnessed a quiet transformation as the infrastructure that supports the system have been upgraded to a first class standard with the courtrooms in the state ranking among the best in the country in terms of conducive environment for judges.

When Daily Sun visited the state recently, the state Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Eyitayo Jegede (SAN) bared his mind on the process of transforming the state's justice delivery system within the last three years.

According to him, justice is now accessible to everybody in the state irrespective of the class or social status.

Face of justice sector
When we came in 2009, we made up our minds that we would improve on what we have on ground. In other words, we were determined to leave the place better than we met it. Our first area of concern was to look at our laws. Interestingly, we found out that the existing laws in the state were those laws codified in 1978, that is, the 1978 Laws of Ondo State. We believed that there was urgent and immediate need to reverse the law and within a period of two years, we were able to publish the new revised laws of Ondo State. It is an all encompassing work consisting of laws made in the state from 1978 to 2006. We have them in volumes. We published the laws in the year 2011. The new revised laws became operational on September 20, 2011.

The personnel of Justice Ministry
We strongly believed that if the government must deliver on its agenda for justice delivery sector, the Ministry of Justice through it various departments and personnel would play a pivotal role. We met about 32 lawyers in the ministry at the time we came in. In order to ensure that administration of justice runs smoothly, particularly in making justice accessible to the ordinary man on the street, which was a cardinal objective of his excellence, Dr Olusegun Mimiko administration, we engaged another additional 26 lawyers in order to beef up our personnel.

Also, we found out that there was a need to attract agencies into the state, particularly the Federal Courts in order to broaden the justice delivery system in the state. Instead of our people travelling long distances in order to get justice on certain matters that the state High Court may not have the requisite jurisdiction to entertain, we have been able to within a period of two years attract a judicial division of Court of Appeal in Akure here. Not only that, we have been able to attract to the state, a judicial division of the National Industrial Court. Therefore, we have made provisions to accommodate the court and the place is currently undergoing renovations.

Effects of the revised law
The positive effects of the revised laws on our justice delivery system are manifold because, significantly, it has helped to bring standardisation into our laws.

For example, it has helped in the chieftaincy law of 1984. After the 1984 law, we have had about nine amendments all forming pieces of legislation here and there. Some contain two sections while others contain five sections. That was the case in the last 20 years. So we brought all these pieces of legislations under a single law and renumber them. Also, in the process of the reform, we have to take out obsolete laws that are no longer in tandem with the constitution.

So what we have now is that a lawyer or any other stakeholder can pick our lawyers without going through pieces of legislations here and there. All our laws are now well-codified and published in four volumes.

Our courts
When we came on board in 2009, we took a painstaking study of the environment of justice delivery. We believe that we should invest in the infrastructure of our courts and welfare of our judges. We made the courtrooms very comfortable in order to ensure that a first class conducive atmosphere is guarantee for smooth running of the system. We also support and encourage our judges to go for international conferences as part of continuing education. We also have to make provisions for comfort of our judges, not just inside the court but even outside it. As I am talking to you, we are among the first state in the federation to give that a priority.

At the lower court, particularly at the magistracy, we have also been able to improve significantly on their welfare and provide a conducive atmosphere for them to work. We have engaged additional magistrates we now have over 30 magistrates. In spite of the number, we have continued to improve on the quality of the courtrooms in terms of electronic equipment and standard libraries. For the judges, we provided them with electronic library. We have also extended this to our magistrates and lawyers in the ministry for effective performances.

Why we still have awaiting trial inmates
We still have awaiting trial inmates because of cases relating to robbery and murder. What we do is to prosecute them. One other thing we have been working on is to ensure that we have magistrate courts within the premises of the prison to ensure that the trial of the inmates receives accelerate hearing.

Making justice accessible to indigents
Already we have our Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) mechanism in place under the supervision of the Ministry of Justice to ensure that justice gets to everyone. A critical aspect of that is the establishment of the Office of Public Defender (OPD) whose responsibility is to assist indigent citizens in both civil and criminal matters through sustained quality legal aid. These institutions will soon receive fresh impetus that would strengthen them for quality and effective delivery of services to our people.

Hosting the Attorney-Generals of States
I am the current chairman of the body of state Attorney-Generals across the 36 states. In that capacity, therefore, it is my responsibility to ensure that we host our meetings as at when due. This is the fourth meeting when we came on board. The first meeting was in Port Harcourt, the other two meetings were held in Abuja. Basically what we do is to come together to generate ideas that will help our respective states and the nation at large. Also we do deliberate on such other subjects that may be referred to us by the body of governors. At the end of each meeting, those issues that we consider should go to the public, we will address them to the public while those issues that we consider should go to the Governors' Forum will be sent to them accordingly.