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Justice Opeyemi Oke, Chief Judge of Lagos State, has advised lawyers to embrace Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) in order to support the growth of the justice system in Lagos State.
Speaking at the first ADR roundtable for lawyers, organised by Lagos Multi-Door Courthouse (LMDC), Oke, who described ADR as a means of exploring out-of-court settlement, said that parties that used ADR as settlement option, enjoins long range of benefits including cost effective, user friendly and time efficient process that restores relationships, and maintain confidentiality of both parties.
According to her, through the Multi-Door Courthouse concept and the rules of court, ADR has now become part and parcel of the court’s experience, and has been deployed to enhance access to justice, boost speedy and effective dispensation of justice as well as decongestion of the courts.
“I predict that when consumers of justice develop a consensual dispute resolution consciousness and a healthy appetite for ADR, a ripple effect will be created. This will impact the way lawyering business is carried out in Nigeria.
She stated that ADR as a trend in dispute settlement could not be stopped, as attempts by legal communities in other jurisdictions of the world, have not succeeded in doing so. This, she said, was due to the fact that evolution was driven by the new age mentality, which places great premium on efficiency, speed and self-determination.
To concretise these gains, Oke pointed to the need for legal education system in Nigeria to be revolutionised so as to keep pace with modern trends. “But in the interim as practitioners of the law and gatekeepers of the justice sector, lawyers will have to make seasoned decisions about what direction to go and what line to tow.
The Chief Judge, who noted that there was usually assumption that with ADR the earnings from litigation work would dwindle significantly, said that such fear was responsible for the initial resistance to ADR in the court system by lawyers.
“In ADR environment, the lawyer is no more a courtroom advocate but does not become less than he is in his accomplishments as a litigator. He has to deploy a fresh set of skills to demonstrate mastery in this new arena. He must become the legal adviser and a strategist and negotiator. He is in the negotiation to make deals for his client and not to advocate rights and legal positions,” he advised.
Justices Oke further pointed to the need for increased awareness of Alternative Dispute Resolution across the state and nation, adding that lawyers should be at liberty to practice ADR in all the courts across the country.
Earlier in his welcome address, Justice Adesuyi Olateru-Olagbegi, emeritus judge and chairman of Lagos Multi-Door Governing Council, said that the objectives of LMDC was to decongest the dockets of the high and magistrate courts in Lagos state through the application of ADR methods in settling cases referred to LMDC in an efficient and speedy manner.
According to him, only when we achieve a high rate of settled court-referred cases through ADR coupled with a diminishing number of civil cases filed in our courts, which LMDC can actually claim to have succeeded in accomplishing the “overriding objectives” of decongesting the courts.
To achieve this, LMDC has developed strategies to achieve its overriding objectives and they include: increasing the annual Lagos Settlement Week (LSW) from once to twice a year in order to maximise the impact on the dockets of the Courts and introducing cut-off dates for the duration of cases on the LMDC’s docket.
Others include ensuring that cases are moved to the ADR unit after one month; cases to be closed three months after the first mediation date and court-referred cases to be closed three months from date of referral.
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