Association of Lower Court Judges (Oyo State Branch) Annual Conference 2022.
Theme: Attaining a Truly Free and Autonomous Judiciary Topic: The Role of the Lower Courts in Promoting and Sustaining Social and Economic Growth
A paper presented by Bayo Akinlade, Esq. in Ibadan on the 1st of December 2022.
The rule of law provides security and stability. A stable institutional set-up, backed by the legal sector, is the key facilitator of economic development through the promotion of more sophisticated economic activity (see https://www.lawsociety.org.uk/topics/blogs/the-role-of- justice-in-unlocking-economic-growth)
According to the World Bank, following the pandemic induced recession in 2020, Nigeria’s economic growth recovered but macroeconomic stability weakened. Amidst global commodity shocks, a depreciating currency, trade restrictions, and monetization of the deficit, inflation is surging and pushing millions of Nigerians into poverty. Since 2021, Nigeria is also unable to benefit from the surging global oil prices, as oil production has fallen to historic lows and petrol subsidy continues to consume a larger share of the gross oil revenues.
In 2018, 40% of Nigerians (83 million people) lived below the poverty line, while another 25% (53 million) were vulnerable. With Nigeria’s population growth continuing to outpace poverty reduction, the number of Nigerians living in extreme poverty is set to rise by 7.7 million between 2019 and 2024.
While the economy is projected to grow at an average of 3.2% in 2022-2024, the growth outlook is subject to downside risks including further declines in oil production and heightened insecurity. Meanwhile, continued scarcity of foreign exchange and tighter liquidity could affect the economic activity in the non-oil sector and undermine the overall macroeconomic stability. The uncertainty is also expected to be accompanied by high inflation and continued fiscal and debt pressures”.
In the research conducted by the World Bank on Social development, it notes that…… “While Nigeria has made some progress in socio-economic terms in recent years, its human capital development ranked 150 of 157 countries in the World Bank’s 2020 Human Capital Indes. The country continues to face massive developmental challenges, including the need to reduce the dependency on oil and diversify the economy, address insufficient infrastructure, build strong and effective institutions, as well as address governance issues and public financial management systems. Inequality, in terms of income and opportunities, remains high and has adversely affected poverty reduction. The lack of job opportunities is at the core of the high poverty levels, regional inequality, and social and political unrest. High inflation has also taken a toll on household’s welfare and high prices in 2020-2022 are likely to have pushed an additional 8 million Nigerians into poverty. See: https://www.worldbank.org/en/country/nigeria/overview-text Economic 200verview&text =in 202018,2040253200f Nigerians.million20between 202019-202nd 202024,
According to an online research publication
…….. Judicial independence and the strength and efficiency of judiciaries are associated with economic growth.. ………. The related concepts of separation of powers and of checks and balances are not well-defined, and their meaning varies depending on the country and the objective of the constitutional founders…… Judicial independence is not just a question of the structural independence of the judiciary within the governmental system, but also of the behavioral independence of individual judges. The latter is based both on law (for example, lifetime tenure) and on the method of appointment of the judiciary, but also on the education, economic security, and place in society of Individual judges. Especially noteworthy in this regard is the traditional independence of English judges despite the absence of constitutional structural independence and of any power of judicial review.
https://www.researchgate.net/publication/228231389 The Judiciary and Economic Development Stephenson (2007) noted that the judicial system has three dilemmas, two of which I will highlight.
- Limitation of resources…. Insufficient funding to sustain an independent judiciary; and 2. Incentive compatibility…. Lower Court Judges should be motivated to effectively carry out their functions.
RANDALL T. SHEPARD wrote in THE JUDICIARY’S ROLE IN ECONOMIC PROSPERITY that…..
“When people think of how courts affect them, they typically think in a public law mindset. They think about the “big issues” decided under constitutions. That type of judicial action dominates both public perception and legal scholarship. Thus, when people think about how courts affect them, they think more about hot-button political issues and the ubiquitously reported criminal cases. Private law often gets shunted to the back of people’s minds because they think of it as solely affecting the parties. Far less coverage is given to tort or contract actions involving businesses or individual citizens in their economic lives.
The Great Recession provides an excellent moment to consider the role of courts in the economy, because in truth, private law does have an effect beyond the parties. Businesses react to contract and tort cases. They often invest or not, innovate or not, based in part on how courts will treat them when deals go south or products fail. Of course, courts touch the economy in non-adjudicative ways as well. Outside the courtroom, courts and judges can do their part to help promote an educated workforce and informed citizenry. Courts have the capacity to contribute to civic knowledge by webcasting their proceedings into college and secondary school classrooms, or contributing to civic education programs, or by just giving a local class a few moments of the judge’s time.
There can be no doubt that a better-educated populace leads to a stronger economy. Courts must also do what they can to strengthen families because stronger families reduce crime, produce better educated citizens, and reduce poverty, all factors favorable to the economy”…
The Lower Courts are the closest court to the people and undoubtedly handle over 70% of disputes involving individuals and between individuals and the State.
- Tenancy cases,
- Small crimes, misdemeanors, etc
- Contracts (within its financial jurisdiction)
- Family related issues involving children and some category of domestic violence.
Decisions of lower courts involving these issues/disputes form the building blocks for social and economic reforms and growth. Changing attitudes, informing legislation leading to enactment of better laws.
It is crucial for a judge of the lower court to be fully independent if a nation is to develop because decisions/ (Orders, Judgments, rulings) made under duress or influence of external factors tend to lead to disobedience of their orders which in turn leads to a breakdown in law and order.
Lower Court Judges should consider the value of their standing in the society and in governance, oppose any interference with their constitutional authority and carry out their duties without fear (of their superiors and appointers) or favour. The independence of the judiciary is the independence of every single judge having full control of their courts and cases.
Finally, the Executive arm of government should not be the ones providing staffing requirements for the Judiciary and all Executive control over the Judiciary must be rejected and cut off completely.