The Lagos State House of Assembly on Friday moved to review the High Court of Lagos State fees to make them conform to current realities in justice dispensation.
Many, especially members of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), however, disagreed with Lagos State High Court at the Stakeholders’ Meeting on the High Court of Lagos (Fees) Rules, 2018.
Journalists gathered that the meeting was organised by the House Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights, Public Petitions and LASIEC, headed by Mr Tunde Braimoh (APC-Kosofe II).
Prince Dele Oloke, the Chairman, NBA, Ikeja Branch said that the proposed plan to review the fees would further hinder dispensation of justice for the ordinary masses.
He said that High Courts were for the poor and the rich, and high fees would discourage poor litigants.
“Yes, there is the need for us to collect fees to generate revenue to the court but justice must not be purchased. When the masses cannot access justice because of the schedule of fees, society degenerates into anarchy,” Oloke said.
He alleged that the judiciary had since been collecting the proposed fees from members of the public, expressing his displeasure to the development.
“For us, if fees have been taken without the concurrence of the house of assembly in spite of the instance of the extant law on regulations in Lagos State, it speaks volumes.
“If we say we pass these suggested fees now into law, are we going to ask the judiciary to return the money collected from litigants before?
“Ikeja Branch of NBA will not support these fees as it’s presented and our suggestion will be later presented in a memorandum to be sent to the House,’’ Oloke said.
According to him, some lawyers come to court for a fee as low as N6, 000 and sometimes pro bono.
In his contribution, Mr Tope Alabi, a legal practitioner, said that the reviewed fees, if allowed, would affect dispensation of quality justice.
Alabi urged the lawmakers to look at other areas to generate revenue for the court rather than putting the burden on the already suffering masses seeking justice.
“I notice 1000 per cent increment in the review. We need to look at it. High Court in Lagos is nearer to the people more than others.
“Lagos state can still generate billions in other places; leave judiciary alone, if the review is carried out, it will be a clog on the wheel of dispensing quality justice,’’ he said.
Responding, the Chief Registrar of High Court of Lagos State, Mrs Taiwo Olatokun, said that the new fees being introduced were not exorbitant.
Olatokun said those increases were to discourage speculative and frivolous claims by some litigants.
“These increments are not unreasonable, they are in line with the realities,’’ she said.
The registrar said that those who could not meet the cost of justice had been taken care of under the High Court Rules.
Earlier, Braimoh, the Chairman of the House Committee and a legal practitioner, said that the regulations would in so many ways be advantageous to the state and administration of justice.
Braimoh, who noted that the bill for the review of fees chargeable in the high court was sent by the judiciary, said the House would not in any way succumb to any permutation where justice would be for sale.
“Justice is not for sale, but in the course of dispensing justice, there must be some maintenance costs that are incidental to the discharge of the functions of the judiciary.
“We will grant Judiciary its needs and not their wants. Judiciary is providing some services and that is a need to run their services.
“Though we don’t expect the people to pay for those services really, at least people should be contributory to the dispensation of those services,’’ Braimoh said.
Overviewing the bill, Mr Sanai Agunbiade, the Majority Leader of the House, said the bill was seeking to prescribe fees to be used in the Lagos State High Court as well as repeal the extant High Court (fees) Rules, 2001.
According to Agunbiade, the bill has 30 sections and two schedules.
Earlier, in his keynote address, the Speaker of the House, Mr Mudashiru Obasa, represented by his deputy, Mr Waaiu Eshinlokun-Sanni, said the House would do all in the best interest of the state.
“Judiciary must survive. There must be justice and government must be humane in all issues as it affects the populace, we will look at this regime of fees.
“I assure you that the committee would do a lot on this to ensure that justice is affordable and accessible. This house will do the needful and justice to this regime of fees,’’ the speaker said.