The National Judicial Council under the leadership of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Hon. Dr. Justice I. T. Muhammad, has issued Guidelines for court sittings and operations during the Covid 19 Period.
The guidelines were contained in a letter addressed to all heads of Courts in Nigeria dated 7th May, 2020 and with reference number NJC/CIR/HOC/II/660 May, 2020 titled ‘Re: National Judicial Council Covid-19 Policy Report: Guidelines For Court Sittings and Related Matters In the Covid-19 Period’.
The letter stated that the Committee headed by the Hon. Justice Olabode Rhodes-Vivour, JSC, CFR, submitted the Report to the CJN on Wednesday, the 6th day of May, 2020 together with the Formulated Guidelines.
The CJN further enjoined all Heads of Courts to be guided by the ‘Guidelines in adopting or formulating, Rules, Directives and Guidelines, as appropriate to the legal and material circumstances of their Courts, with a view to achieving the goal of safely delivering justice in these unprecedented challenging times.’
The guidelines which do not replace or substitute for the respective Rules of Courts is according to the CJN is to ‘complement the Rules and make specific provisions that would guide justice administration for as long as COVID-19 pandemic shall subsist and possibly beyond.’
As contained in the guidelines, each court head is to do everyting within theirn powers to ensure that their court premises observed the basic advice of and protocols with respect to Covid-19 prevention which includes; minimum 2-meter (6 feet) distance between persons as it relates to all entrants into the court premises, use of facemasks and hand sanitizers/dispensers, temperature monitors for testing and determining the temperature of each visitor to the court premises amongst others.
Also contemplated in the guidelines is the provision for e-filing of court’s processes where it is possible and practicable.
The time of virtual or remote court sittings seem to have arrived with the provisions for it in the guideline. According to the guidelines; ‘Physical sittings by courts in courtrooms should be avoided as much as possible during this COVID-19 period.’
It went further to provide that ‘Virtual court sittings (alternately referred to as “remote court sittings” or “online court sittings”) should be encouraged and promoted by the courts and Counsel; the courts should insist on such remote hearings for matters that do not require taking any evidence. All judgments, ruling and directions may be delivered and handed down by the courts in and through remote court sittings.’
According to the guidelines, Heads of Courts may expand on the guidelines and/or modify them, as necessary and/or required, based on the exigencies of the moment and the circumstances of each court.