By Azeezat Oladejo, Esq.
The Justice delivery system is moving at a pace and there are also other forms of dispute resolution system which are: Arbitration, Meditiation, Conciliation or Negotiation, Early Neutral Arbitration, Med Arb, Hybrid process.
The body which coordinates the settlement week is the Lagos multi-door court house which came into existence in 2002 and in 2007, it was adopted and established as an organ of the Lagos State government by the Lagos multi-door court law which came into effect on the 18th May, 2007.
The Lagos Multi Door Court house is a court connected to ADR centre with offices within the premises of Lagos State High court, Ikeja High Court and other suitable places in Lagos and its environs.
The Definition & Administrative Process:
Lagos settlement week is defined in section 31 of the Lagos Multi Door Court law 2007 as a week set aside by the chief judge of Lagos State for specific courts to clear their back log of cases through means, which include return to the Lagos multi-door court house for possible resolution through meditation, arbitration, neutral evaluation or any other ADR procedure.
Before the commencement of the Lagos settlement week, the Chief Judge of Lagos State write a memo to the Chief Registrar on Lagos settlement week informing the registrar about the date of the Lagos settlement week and with a direction to issue circular notifying the court both the High Court and the Magistrate Court about the settlement week and referral of cases to the Multi door Court house for the settlement week. The chief Registrar in turn issue a circular to all honourable Judges of the High court Lagos and Ikeja Judicial Division, and all honourable Magistrates of Lagos, Ikeja and Yaba Magisterial District and the Lagos State Judiciary, in preparation for the Settlement Week. The just concluded Lagos Settlement week, was held in Lagos State at the Lagos Multi door Court house, between July 15th – 19th 2019 and matters that commenced during that period which parties were unable to settle are still ongoing until final settlement of the matter .
Lagos Settlement week process.
Court Referral: During the Lagos Settlement week cases are referred from the High court and the Magistrate court at any stage of the proceedings in court, which may be at the pre-trial stage, at the opening of case management conference, at the close of case management conference, at the commencement of trial , but before Judgement, for parties to explore amicable resolution of their disputes.
Walk-in matters: Parties may voluntarily on their own volition initiate a dispute/matter for settlement during the Lagos Settlement Week.
Consent of parties: Parties may both agree to resolve their matter/dispute during the Lagos Settlement Week by imploring any of the techniques of ADR. At the Lagos Settlement Week, mostly cases/ disputes are resolved which are suitable for mediation Case type/subject matters suitable for meditation: are civil, commercial, family, banking, landlord and tenant , probate, monetary claims , breach of contract, child custody , overdraft , mortgages, settlement of property issues in family
Case type/subject matters not suitable for meditation are: criminal (allegations) of fraud or criminal conduct, declaration of title to land, constitutional issues, Fundamental Human Right, Interpretation of an instrument or documents and injunctive relief.
During the Lagos Settlement Week, cases are scheduled for mediation sessions during these sessions, a sole facilitator/ mediator help parties negotiate a mutually agreeable settlement using the appropriate ADR Mechanism for that case.
Objectives of the Lagos Settlement Week
To impact the justice system of Lagos State through a gradual/but definitive reduction of the case load of the courts while providing satisfying timely and cost effective justice to litigants.
To encourage the use of non-adversarial dispute resolution mechanisms as far as possible, especially for commercial and general civil matters.
To create wide spread awareness of the benefit and effectiveness of mediation as a dispute resolution method.
To provide the platform to raise public awareness of ADR and showcase the services of the Lagos Multi door court house.
The Mediation Process:
Mediation is a process of resolving dispute without resorting to formal proceeding such as court. It is voluntary facilitated by an independent third party which role is to help the parties develop solutions in a confidential environment. Mediation is a party driven process parties decide on terms and settlement of their disputes. The major form of ADR implored during the Lagos Settlement Week is mediation. The Lagos Multi-door court house engage mediators who are seasoned , skilled and specialized in their area of practice to resolve disputes between parties. At the end of the mediation session, if parties are able to resolve their disputes terms of settlement is drafted and signed by both parties and it is adopted as consent judgement in court.
Advantages of mediation over court process:
It saves time mediation is an ADR process with a time limit or frame unlike court process which can take years before judgement is entered , it is user friendly, It reduce cost at the Lagos Settlement week matters are resolved free, It is flexible, Party driven , it open ups communication between parties with the aim of resolving disputes between parties , it foster relationship between parties , parties walk out of the mediation session, resolved their disputes smiling at each other with a hand shake , it enhances continuation of business relationship and it kills deadlock between parties in dispute.
Lagos Settlement Week evolved as result of a bid to popularize encourages and mainstream ADR as a part of the disputes resolution infrastructure in Lagos State.
Lawyers and Litigants attitude to mediation and the settlement week.
Some Lawyers become worried and frightened when they receive a call from case managers from the Lagos multi door court house, that their matters has been referred to the multi door court house for amicable resolution during the Lagos Settlement Week, what comes into their mind is that if parties settle their dispute during the Lagos settlement week they won’t get paid for their legal services but would rather frustrate the process instead of promoting and encouraging their client to explore amicable settlement. This should rather not be a problem to Lawyers but to discuss with their clients and still insists on their legal fees. Some parties will not be willing and ready to explore settlement and will rather insist on litigation in court.
Lawyers and litigants are also expected to keep up with their appointment in courts for their matter, attend their mediation sessions and also attend their matter in court they need to give report in court as their mediation sessions proceed towards settlement.
The African continental trade agreement and the mediation process :The president of the federal republic of Nigeria on the 7th July 2019 signed the agreement establishing the (AFCTA ‘Agreement or the Agreement ’) The agreement seeks to create a single market for goods and services by facilitating free movement of goods, services, and investment with the African continent. It has three protocols, Protocol on trade in goods. Protocol on trade in services and protocol on rules and procedure on the settlement of disputes. Nigeria is the 53rd country to sign the agreement and how prepared are we for the operation of the treaty? The Nigerian borders will be opened for commercial business which will result into more commercial disputes that will be quickly resolved with mediation or any forms of ADR techniques.
1. The Nigerian bar association should offer training for lawyers on mediation advocacy skills as continuing legal education to enable lawyers understand the mediation process and what lawyers are expected to do at the mediation session .
2. There is need for the Lagos State Government to build a Lagos Settlement House fully equipped with technologies and resources that will enhance faster and easier dispute resolutions.
3. Penalty and Fine :– It is the usual practice that when matters are referred from the court for amicable resolution of disputes between parties ,where both parties or either of the parties failed to submit to resolution, for no just cause or frustrate the process thereby defeating the objectives of the Lagos Settlement week, the practice is that the matter are sent back to court for continuation with reports from the Lagos Multi door court house without attracting any penalty or fine.
I recommend that such matters should not continue in court until payment of some monetary fines for such delay caused and for defeating the objectives of the Lagos settlement week and for infringing on section 31 of the Lagos Multi Door Court law 2007 and for contravening the powers conferred on the chief judge of Lagos state to set aside a week for specific courts to clear their back log of cases through means ,which include return to the Lagos multi-door court house for possible resolution through meditation, arbitration, neutral evaluation or any other ADR procedure.
Finally, the Lagos State government has done tremendously well towards their continued support for the Lagos settlement week and I also call on Companies, Private Institutions, Government agencies, bodies, parastatals and Religious bodies and Civil Societies to support the Lagos settlement week.
The Lagos Settlement is a commendable process towards resolution of dispute and if commercial disputes are resolved on time without delay, it will encourage and increase more foreign participation in Nigeria Business which will improve the economy. Lawyers, Litigant and the general public are advised to use the short route to justice delivery system.