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“Justice System Needs Artificial Intelligence, Clinical Legal Education, other Reforms’’

The Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Administration, Olabisi Onabanjo University (OOU), Ago-Iwoye, Prof. Charles Olufemi Adekoya, has called for the adoption of artificial intelligence in Nigeria’s justice system to put an end to prolonged delays in justice delivery in the nation’s courts. Worried by the growing sharp practices and unethical conduct in the country’s legal profession, the distinguished scholar also demanded stiffer sanctions, including withdrawal of practice license, for lawyers found wanting.

Adekoya, a Professor of Law, equally urged law lecturers and legal educators in Nigerian universities to embrace clinical legal education towards producing justice-oriented graduates to bridge the huge gap in the administration of civil justice in the country. He further challenged the Bar and the Bench, as critical stakeholders, to make concerted efforts in removing all the impediments militating against the administration of justice in Nigeria.

The don gave the suggestions on Tuesday, 13th December, 2022 while delivering the 103rd OOU Inaugural Lecture at the Otunba Gbenga Daniel Lecture Theatre, Main Campus, Ago-Iwoye. The Lecture entitled, “Betrayal of the Poor in Accessing Justice in Nigeria: The Judas in our Midst,” was chaired by the Vice-Chancellor of the University, Prof. Ayodeji Agboola, with several eminent personalities in attendance. At the event, the don expressed concern over what he described as the humongous challenges in accessing justice in Nigeria, especially by the poor. He warned that if the impediments to justice were not removed by relevant stakeholders, the country could experience another mass protest staged by disadvantaged members of the society such as the EndSARS.

The DVC Administration, Prof. Charles Adekoya, Presenting a copy of his Inaugural
Lecture to the Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Ayodeji Agboola

He said, “The major problems plaguing the legal profession and the judicial system seem to be from within. It becomes pertinent to ask the question: who among us is Judas responsible for the betrayal of the poor by making justice an impregnable fortress for the masses either through our actions or inactions?

“Is it the judges, the lawyers, the defendants, court officials, the legal educators or the system or a combination of these? Irrespective of our perception of who the Judas is, it is crucial that all the critical stakeholders should be deeply concerned about our justice system that seems not to be working.”

While advocating an artificial intelligence-driven justice system in Nigeria, Prof. Adekoya said the system had gained prominence in legal circles in several foreign countries and its adoption by Nigeria would greatly assist in the speedy dispensation of justice in the country. He said, “In Nigeria, most of our judicial officers, apart from writing in long hands, which takes time,  have to sieve through the high volumes of court processes filed by the parties, substantive and procedural laws in order to write their judgments. This process not only takes time and contributed to delays but equally takes its toll on the health of our judicial officers.

“The use of artificial intelligence could greatly assist in the speedy dispensation of justice in Nigeria. If we create databases for our judgments and utilise artificial intelligence, the decisions of our courts could be ready in about a week. It also acts as a great relief to our judicial officers.”

The Inaugural Lecturer emphasised the need for the Nigerian judiciary to uptake artificial intelligence and leverage it in the  judicial processes in order to prepare for the modern AI-driven speedy justice system. He added, “In Argentina, for instance, artificial intelligence (AI) is being used to assist district attorneys in writing decisions in complex cases, which the presiding judges can either approve, reject or rewrite. This is achieved by the AI programme using the district attorney’s digital library of 2,000 rulings from 2016 to 2017 and with matching cases to the most relevant decisions in the database.”

“This enables it to predict how the court will decide the matter. One may question the reliability and accuracy of such AI predictions but it does not present serious issues since judicial officers are expected to superintend or exercise human oversight on its recommendation.”

As a way of expanding people-centred justice system in Nigeria, the professor also canvassed the use of legal chatbots which are artificial intelligence software applications used to interact with people online through automated conversations. He explained that chatbots could relate to users like human beings by helping them to access legal information and documents as well as offer free legal advice or resolve a myriad of day-to-day legal issues on a 24-hour basis without the need to interact with, pay a visit or speak to a lawyer. Prof. Adekoya called for the reforming of the justice system to make judicial proceedings generally simple, speedy and inexpensive as well as increase in funding for legal aid for the sake of the poor.  In making a case for clinical legal education, he contended that legal training had hitherto not been justice-centred but done mainly through the traditional method of instruction which placed emphasis on legalism without attention to values and justice.

“Thus, the production of graduates by Law Faculties, who provide access to justice for the poor are in short supply as a result of lack of justice-oriented training. For this reason, lawyers have gained notoriety and are called derogatory names for their seeming indifference to the plight of the poor and disadvantaged members of the society,” he submitted. The lecturer further said, “Legal educators are therefore deemed culpable for not exposing students to social justice issues and for failing to lay emphasis on skills and strict ethical values which would have shaped our products that find their ways to the Bench and the Bar. This makes the graduates ill-equipped to practise the profession. This is the reason why many of the products contribute significantly to the suffocation of the administration of the civil justice system in Nigeria.”

“As a result of the deficits in the legal educational system, students are not being exposed to social justice issues in the society in order to prepare them as advocate for justice, thus provoking the public lawyering spirits in them. This has contributed to the increased justice gap in Nigeria and as a result of the failure of members of the legal profession to bridge this gap, in spite of the fact that many new lawyers are admitted to the Bar each year.”

The scholar recalled that as a result of the dysfunctional training, a non-governmental organisation promoting clinical legal education, Network of University Legal Aid Institutions (NULAI-Nigeria), spearheaded reform in legal education by introducing Clinical Legal Education into Law Faculties and Law Schools.

“Law students now undergo experimental learning through the law clinics geared towards legal service delivery, thus energising the vocational training of law as a great tool for promoting justice, especially for the poor. Faculty-based Law Clinics have since been involved in the promotion of human rights and the expansion of access to justice,” he added.

Prof. Adekoya noted that judicial officers and lawyers are products of legal training and critical stakeholders in the administration of civil justice, stressing that the way they are trained matters a lot in meeting professional calling and societal expectations.

He, however, expressed dissatisfaction at the “apathy on the part of old colleagues to embrace change” as well as “the low level of participation by law students in clinical activities.” He said, “Lack of commitment to the clinical trainings and a relapse into the traditional methods of training are constituting great hindrance. Other obstacles confronting clinical education are standardisation in terms of law clinics and moot courts and lip service by faculty members and students.

“There is therefore the need for Council of Legal Education (CLE) to be fully integrated into the curriculum of faculties of law in order to ensure commitment of both faculty members and students in terms of effective implementation, adequate supervision and dedication to clinical activities.”

The Deputy Vice-Chancellor also advocated the change in nomenclature of the place of training lawyers from the existing Faculty of Law to either ‘Faculty of Justice’ or ‘Faculty of Law and Justice’ to bring the consciousness of justice to students. “This is the practice in some other climes. In order to activate the consciousness of justice in legal training, it might be worthwhile to  reconsider having a Faculty of Law simpli citer without justice. Faculties of Law need to get the objective of legal education right by educating for justice and not for law per se in order to narrow the civil justice gap for the poor,” he submitted.

Prof. Adekoya, who expressed concern that the public had lost confidence in the Nigeria’s justice system as a result of various professional misconducts by lawyers and judicial officials, noted that corruption and unethical practices have suffocated the administration of civil justice in the country.

He argued that many Nigerian legal practitioners would find it difficult to operate in the United Kingdom and other countries which view unprofessional conduct strictly. He also frowned at interlocutory applications often filed by counsels to deliberately slow down court cases as well as unnecessary appeals against concluded matters. He said, “The undue reliance on legalism has not made many lawyers ethically conscious and the seeming lax regulatory environment and permissive legal practice in Nigeria has not helped matters at all.  It is thus not uncommon to find lawyers, and in some cases, judicial officials engaging in various unprofessional conducts. Some of these misconducts which have further suffocated the administration of civil justice in Nigeria have been reported. In many cases, interest of justice is disregarded by colleagues to the detriment of public interest.”

“In the UK, unprofessional conduct is viewed very strictly: a Barrister could be sanctioned for unnecessarily appealing against a concluded matter or for bringing an appeal that is baseless, including award of cost and report to the regulatory body which might lead to the Barrister being debarred.”

“Interlocutory applications, which are the stock in trade here, are hardly initiated because of the likely negative consequences on the lawyer. Many of our colleagues could not practise in the UK as they would have had costs awarded against them or even lose their licences on grounds of unethical or professional misconducts,” he added.

Prof. Adekoya noted that due to the harrowing and frustrating way Nigeria’s justice system works, many justice-seeking citizens often quickly disembark from the temple of justice or abandon their matter altogether. He, however, stressed the need for legal education to focus on the development of empathy in Law students for them to appreciate the emotional needs not only of their clients but of parties before them when they become judicial officers. He said, “Lack of empathy in legal practice could be responsible for the unnecessary pursuit of procedural issues in court while the substantive issues seriously suffer and at the end, justice is catastrophically defeated! This has accounted for the reason why the public has lost confidence in the justice system.”

“In order to reinforce the service and value content of legal education towards producing new sets of Law graduates that are more empathy imbued and public-spirited, there is need to inculcate in them empathy through incorporation in legal training or as a necessary aspect of curriculum review.”

As part of his recommendations, Prof. Adekoya called for the establishment of branches of the Supreme Court in the six geopolitical zones of Nigeria to ease the workload of the apex court and bring it closer to the people. He also advocated the scrapping of the Court of Appeal to reduce the layers of courts to be traversed in the search for justice. As a result, he said cases from High Courts and courts of coordinate jurisdiction should proceed straight to the Supreme Court.

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