COVID-19: Courts to be overwhelmed with cases of contractual breaches ― Lawyers

As businesses adjust their operations to COVID-19 realities, legal practitioners have noted that the courts are set to be bombarded with litigations stemming from businesses being compelled to invoke contractual clauses and penalties against counterparties.

The legal practitioners especially noted that the nation’s anachronistic civil justice system will be put under more pressure by several parties who will resist the redefinition of their relationships with firms.

With the courts currently having at least 200,000 pre-COVID-19 cases yet unresolved, the lawyers, gathered in Ibadan, advanced the need for lawyers to embrace COVID-19 Alternative Dispute Resolution (CADRI).

Present at the launch of CADRI included Chief Judge of Oyo State, Justice Munta Abimbola; state Attorney General, Professor Oyelowo Oyewo; immediate past President, Customary Court of Appeal, Justice Eni Esan; former Attorney General of the Federation, Chief Bayo Ojo; President, Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), Mrs Toki Mabogunje; Chairman, Ibadan chapter, Chartered Institute of Arbitrators, Prince Lateef Fagbemi; Chairman, Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry International Arbitration Centre, Mr Tunde Fagbohunlu; Chairman, Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) Ibadan branch, Dr Wole Akintayo.

Pointing to the nation’s under-resourced courts, lack of infrastructure to enable activation of COVID-19 precautions of the avoidance and minimization, co-visioner, CADRI, Mrs Funmi Roberts said it was expedient for businesses and individuals to embrace the easier, faster and affordable ADR option.

She noted that the pressures that judges work under will be exacerbated by increased number of post COVID-19 cases, urging judges to embrace the ADR non-litigation options of negotiation, mediation, arbitration and adjudication so as to quickly dispense with cases.

“One of the significant outcomes of measures taken to minimize the rate of infection of the pandemic will force many individuals and businesses to invoke contractual clauses and penalties against counterparties.

“This will be accepted by some; resisted by others, thereby leading to disputes between parties, who but for COVID-19 were happy with their business relationships. Lawyers will then be consulted. Our advice will be sought.

“Our courts are burgeoning with almost 200,000 pre-COVID-19 cases yet unresolved. They are severely under-resourced, with court registries populated by staff, some of whom cannot switch on a computer, a tool necessary for post-COVID survival.

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“Our judges still take notes in longhand. Many courtrooms cannot enforce the physical distancing required to minimize the spread of COVID-19, thereby exposing our over-worked judges to the risk of infection.

“Lawyers in the vulnerable age bracket as many of the best are, find it unsafe to attend court sessions because they are afraid for their lives.

“Thus, I ask again, is litigation the only recourse we, as lawyers, should offer to our clients?  I think not.

“African businesses need to focus on regaining the strength of their balance sheets. Africans need to be assured that access to justice will be swift, satisfactory and pocket friendly.

“They should not have to spend time dealing with expensive, time-consuming disputes that could quickly be resolved by faster, confidential, private and cheaper means. That is what CADRI seeks to offer,” Roberts said.

While conducting the signing of CADRI pledge, state Chief Judge, Munta Abimbola acknowledged that the courts will be inundated with business and contractual cases after COVID-19.

Abimbola admonished lawyers, judges to be keen on working with ADR practitioners so as not to delay the delivery of justice.

Noting that justice delayed is justice denied, former Attorney General, Bayo Ojo, in his input, also accepted that alternative ADR platforms, like CADRI, should be embraced.

In his opening remarks, state Attorney General, Oyewo held that CADRI, which offered cost-effective and simple processes, will help courts deal with an avalanche of disputes result from COVID-19.

President, LCCI, Mabogunje said the ADR option was expedient in addressing breaches of contractual obligations arising from COVID-19.

Commenting, Professor Alero Akeredolu bemoaned that lawyers presently had to cope with professional depression.

While agreeing that ADR will relieve lawyers of the burden of litigations, Chairman, Ibadan NBA, Akintayo urged state governments to give the initiative the needed legal backing.

Speaking, CADRI co-visioner, Tunde Fagbohunlu averred that businesses will be expending a lot of money on dispute resolution if they don’t adapt to easier and cheaper means like ADR.

He explained that parties in cases have the opportunity to reach consensus with ADR practitioners on what they deem affordable.

Fagbohunlu added that CADRi will be engaging various institutions on the need to embrace ADR.

 

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