Merchants in the House: How (Administrative) Corruption in the Lagos Division of the Court of Appeal Obstructs the Search for Justice

Discourses on judicial corruption often neglect to acknowledge that variety that flourishes outside of judges and lawyers, but go to the very heart of how justice services are delivered by court employees who constitute the “engine” of court services and operations in various administrative units and departments. Many court users have probably come to regard corruption within court administrative departments as just another unavoidable extension of public sector vice, rather than as facets of judicial corruption. In a sense therefore, this is not seen as “judicial corruption” but “administrative corruption”.

Howsoever corruption by court staff is perceived, it has such a debilitating, obstructive effect on access to justice: corruption by court staff, in whatsoever form - extortion, bribery, gratification, etc., systematically interferes with, interrupts and undermines the judicial process, the speed and efficiency with which trials are conducted and concluded, effective case flow management and the image of the court.

Access to Justice’ special report titled “Merchants in the House: How (Administrative) Corruption in the Lagos Division of the Court of Appeal Obstructs the Search for Justice” takes a look at the administrative operations of the Lagos Division of the Court of Appeal and tries to profile how corruption by the Court’s administrative staff is obstructing the delivery of justice and encumbering litigants with far more costs and burdens than they need to bear.

The focus on the Lagos Division of the Court of Appeal was triggered by the outcry of Hon. Justice Amina Augie JCA, shortly after resumption as the Presiding Justice of the Division. Justice Amina Augie in an interview with Punch Newspapers, featured in its 2nd of June 2014 edition under the caption 'How judiciary can help economic growth', alleged, in reference to the Lagos Division of the Court of Appeal, that: “… Some registrars would tell lawyers, 'You know your case is fixed for next week, if you don't do anything now it will not go on and indeed it would not go on, till lawyers get used to bribing the registrars to ensure that their cases go on”.

This disclosure necessitated a closer look at the administrative operations of the Lagos Divison of the Court of Appeal as well as the conduct of court employees in various departments of the Court. The report examined issues of costs, delays, transparency and efficiency in the filing and compilation of records of appeal, the procedures for service of court processes as well as the overall operational context in which court user and justice delivery services were offered in the court. Where corruption is identified, it tried to project its patterns and prevalence; for example, whether it is restricted to a certain cadre of officials or cuts across the various departments in the administration of the court.

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