Vice President Yemi Osinbajo says the Nigerian judiciary must embrace technology and innovation for efficient service delivery.
Osinbajo said technology was imperative not only for the evolution of the profession and national development but also to ensure that the country’s justice delivery mechanism was run on a system of enforceable, discernible laws and efficient institutions.
Osinbajo’s spokesman, Laolu Akande, in a statement, said the vice president delivered a pre-recorded speech on Monday as guest speaker at the 2021 Annual Law Week of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) Lagos Branch.
The theme of event is, “Disruption, Innovation and The Bar.”
The vice president said that the country’s justice delivery system could support critical investments in the current dynamic economy.
“Questions also need be asked about the readiness of our profession to engage in new markets as presented by the African Continental Free Trade Area(AfCTA).
” Already Nigerian Banks and financial services are crossing borders in Africa, acquiring banks in several African countries.
“So, the AfCTA will open new trans-border commercial opportunities, and our profession should pay attention to the rules of engagement for legal services and how they may propel our business.”
According to the vice president, innovation in Nigeria’s legal profession requires urgency in both thought and action, especially in a world which thrives on knowledge economy, and where some jobs, including legal jobs, are being threatened by digitisation and Artificial Intelligence (AI).
He cited the example of how continuous improvement in the quality of smartphone cameras disrupted global sales of digital camera.
“AI is commonly used to perform tasks such as legal research and due diligence, document and contract review, and the prediction of legal outcomes – these are tasks that would have been performed by lawyers.
“With the continuing progress in technology, it is only a matter of time before the time capsule catches up with us in Nigeria.”
He called for continuous improvement in the institutional capacity of judges, court registries, court staff, and court infrastructure.
Osinbajo said that as digitalisation had already disrupted other industries, it was possible to predict that AI would go further and disrupt the business model of the legal industry.
“For example, the AI legal service called ROSS is an AI system that can research and offer legal opinions about questions that may be posed by lawyers.
“And ROSS is then able to provide an answer; a properly considered legal opinion, taking into account the case laws and statutory authority in order to be able to come to that conclusion.
“So, providing predictive legal opinion is no longer the exclusive domain of lawyers, and as the years go by, it will become even more so.
“We are part of the global marketplace for investment and legal services.
“So, the extent to which we can attract business to our country depends in part upon investor perception of the quality of our justice delivery system; If we are seen as inefficient and ineffective, we would lose out to more efficient systems.”
On the issue of delay in the country’s justice delivery process, Osinbajo said that the country’s judiciary ought to find ways to tackle jurisdictional challenges, particularly delays in court judgments, among others.
“I argued an appeal at the Court of Appeal in 2013, only to learn yesterday as I discussed with former colleagues in the law firm where I worked, that the appeal at the Supreme Court is not even listed to be heard in 2021.
“As someone said; our problem is not access to justice, it is exiting the justice system with some credible result.
“Should we not be evolving a cost award system that recognizes the court as a finite public resource, and as such delays and other dilatory tactics are visited with deterrent costs?”
The vice president said that the Law week, as well as future engagements, provided an opportunity for some reflections by legal practitioners.
He suggested a hybrid approach to legal education in the country and urged the association to consider how innovation in technology would impact on legal education in the future.
“Even mock trials can be more effectively done online and courtroom processes can be put on videos and re-watched several times by students. Of course, we may still retain court and chamber attachments,” he said.
The vice president said that the legal profession needed to go a step further by institutionalising the innovations.
According to him, Nigeria’s justice delivery system, practice norms, and service levels must also show a propensity for innovation, for growth and evolution.