Court proceedings around the world are notoriously slow and the Nigerian legal system is no exception. The length of a court proceeding – from inception to judgment – can take as little as a few months to as much as over a decade. There are various factors that determine the duration of a case in Nigeria.
- The Nature of the Dispute: A case could either be criminal or civil. Criminal cases usually affect the human rights or liberty of an accused person and Courts are therefore encouraged to conclude such matters within the shortest possible time. Most civil cases however can go on for an average of 2 years or more.
- The Specific Court/Judge: The jurisdiction (location) where a case is instituted also affects the duration of a case. If a case is instituted in a commercial city like Lagos, where the Court is already inundated with numerous suits, it will like take a longer period to conclude than a case instituted in a less litigious environment. To address this challenge, the Lagos State Judiciary has implemented a fast track procedure in its courts for specific matters and has commenced a Backlog Elimination programme initiative to determine the cause of the delay and decongest its docket.
- The Rules’ of Courts and Appeals: Due to the complex nature of cases and in order to ensure every party is given a fair hearing, the Rules of courts give timeframes for almost every step in a litigation and these time frames are a standard factor to consider in each and every case. Furthermore, parties can appeal the decision of a court up to the Supreme Court and this consequently extends the duration of a case.
- The Mode of Commencement: The two common means of instituting an action are by Writ of Summons, for contentious issues and Originating Summons for non-contentious issues. The contentious disputes require a trial and therefore takes longer to be concluded.
- Attitude of Parties and Lawyers: Some parties and lawyers tend to delay Court proceedings by filing frivolous applications, appeals or asking the Court for unnecessary adjournments and this contributes to the duration of a matter in Court.