19th May, 2010
Spokesperson of Lagos State magistrates, Mrs. M. B. Folami, has explained why they are agitating for reform in the magistrate’s court.
She explained that after the return to democratic rule in 1999, the Lagos State government began to take steps to address the problems with the administration of justice system and there was a remarkable improvement in the delivery of justice at the high courts.
She, however, noted that the reform did not spread to magistrateâ€™s court which she described as the weakest in justice delivery because of neglect.
She noted that between 70 to 80 percent of all court cases are handled by the magistrateâ€™s court and they are indeed more prone to the problems causing delays in civil and criminal matters.
Mrs. Folami explained that the blueprint for the justice sector and strategy document for Lagos State Magistrateâ€™s Court, identified magistrates as key players in the administration of the justice system because they are closest to the less privileged members of the society that are in the majority.
She explained that the criminal cases magistrates adjudicated on were normally those involving the common man while high courts handle less percentatge of the society, yet the terms or conditons of service are not the same.
She quoted Justice George Adesola Oguntade of the Supreme Court in his valedictory speech when the learned judge noted: â€œIt is a common knowledge that cases are first heard in the magistrate’s court. An observer’s first impression about the delay in our courts primarily relates to what is happening in the magistrate’s court. I think that our magistrates are not being encouraged and fairly treated…â€
She emphasised the need to provide an adequate environment whereby the magistrates will perform their duties bearing in mind the risks they are exposed to in the society.
â€œIt is not too much for magistrates to be housed in a befitting environment where they will have security because of the services they render to the society,â€ she added.
In a bid to ensure that relevant authorities look into their plight and address them, the magistrates have decided to press home their demands without bringing down the administration of criminal justice in Lagos State.
Though they embarked on a strike and later called it off, they might continue the strike until their demands are met.
As at the time of filing this report, the government has not responded to their demands.