Supreme Court has struck out two separate suits brought before it by the Ekiti and Lagos state governments, challenging the validity and constitutionality of the Virtual Court Sittings procedure.
A five-member panel of Justices of the apex court presided over by Justice Bode Rhodes-Vivour had refused to get into the merit of the suits on the ground that, the apex court has not taken any position in a virtual court sitting procedure as at now.
According to the Supreme Court, virtual court sitting has not been declared unconstitutional and that any state Chief Judge, who wants to continue sitting as normal should go ahead if that will be convenient.
The court said, “We are not here to say they must sit virtually and we are not saying they are wrong for not sitting virtually.
“You know what to do if your Chief Judge chose to sit virtually in line with the directive of the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), It is not for you to come to the Supreme Court.
“Let us develop our laws and allow them to grow naturally. This your suit is purely academic”, the court held.
In his response, and considering the stands of the panel, the Lagos state Attorney General and Commissioner of Justice, Mayosore Onigbanjo (SAN), applied for the withdrawal of the suit, a request, the court granted and consequently struck out the suit for been presently speculative and academic.
The Attorney General of Ekiti state, Olawole Fapohunda (SAN), having listened to the proceeding in the case of the Lagos state government, also applied for the withdrawal of the suit, which was accordingly struck out by the court.
The Lagos state suit marked, SC/CV/260/2020, has Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice and the National Assembly as the 1st and 2nd defendants, while that of Ekiti state, marked, SC/CV/261/2020, against the AGF, listed the Attorneys General of Lagos and Ogun states as the 2nd and 3rd defendants.
Both Plaintiffs commenced their suits by way of an originating summons in the original jurisdiction of the Supreme Court.
The Lagos state had, in its suit asked the Supreme Court to determine whether having regard to Section 36(1), (3) and (4) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) use of technology by remote hearings of any kind, whether by Zoom, Microsoft Teams, WhatsApp, Skype or any other audiovisual or video-conference platform by the Lagos State High Court or any other Courts in Nigeria in aid of hearing and determination of cases are constitutional.
On its own, the Ekiti state is challenging the constitutionality of the directive by the AGF, Abubakar Malami (SAN) to Head of Courts at federal and state levels to adopt Virtual Court Sittings in courts.
Ekiti state Attorney General prayed the apex court, in the suit he filed on behalf of the state, asked the apex court to issue an order to annul the directive for the adoption of the Virtual or Remote Court sittings.
Ekiti state named the Attorneys General of Lagos and Ogun States as of 2nd and 3rd defendants because they have implemented virtual court proceedings.
Fapohunda, however, wants the Supreme Court to nullify the directive of the AGF for being inconsistent with Section 1(3), 4(6), 5(2), 6(2), 36(3) and (4), 272 and 274 of the 1999 Constitution.
Ekiti State further wants the Supreme Court to determine whether the AGF’s guidelines are not a derogation from the legislative, executive and judicial law-making, law execution and adjudicatory rules making powers exclusively vested in states of the federation in respect of states courts, by virtue of Sections 1(3), 4(6), 5(2), 6(2), 272 and 272 and 274 of the Constitution.