By Chijioke Okoronkwo
Abuja, Sept. 3, 2020 Vice President Yemi Osinbajo has said that the endorsement of virtual court proceedings by a Supreme Court ruling was a wise decision.
Osinbajo made this submission on Thursday at a webinar on media coverage of virtual court proceedings in Nigeria organised by the Gavel International Limited.
The vice president said that the ruling had saved Nigeria’s system of justice the challenge of technical decisions around the constitutionality of virtual proceedings among other issues.
“We are at a point where at least we know that virtual hearings are legal.
“This means that the Supreme Court is satisfied that appropriate means can be found to ensure that hearings are public and that the press and indeed members of the public can access the proceedings.
“I think that an opportunity that this offers us is to get rid of this issue of technicality as much as possible; and I am so pleased that the Supreme Court did not even hesitate in saying that virtual proceedings are legal.
“It is really a breath of fresh air considering the ways that we tend to magnify the issue of technicality to the point where you wonder where justice is,” Osinbajo said.
He said that the adoption of virtual proceedings would also be an opportunity to dispense with several of the unnecessary technical rules in adjectival law, laws of procedure, evidence and others.
The vice president said that the ruling that virtual proceedings was legal indicated that the Supreme Court was satisfied that appropriate means could be found to ensure that hearings were public.
He said that it also meant that the press and indeed members of the public could access the proceedings.
“If for example, the Zoom platform is the preferred option, the host, the registrar of the court will simply invite the press by making available the relevant coordinates of the meeting to enable the press, not just the print media, log on to the proceedings.
“Just as the physical court can only sit a determined number of persons so the virtual court, depending on the platform being used, would probably have a stated number of persons who can access the proceedings.
“Practice directions may have to indicate how and in what order invitations would be issued especially to the public.
“News Reporting today is of course no longer the preserve of traditional media; every blogger, micro blogger and other social networking services are now entitled to describe themselves as the press.
“And I can say that they have the same constitutional protections as the traditional media would have, given that our definition of freedom of expression does not restrict this to the press as we understand that expression.’’
Osinbajo said the ruling meant further that all of the bloggers, micro bloggers and other social networking services were also subject to the same restrictions and liable to the same sanctions as the traditional media if they violated the rules.
According to him, the rules are issues of confidentiality, avoidance of prejudging of cases, scandalising witnesses, jeopardizing fair trials by media trials, and all of the various violations that are possible.
“I think we are at an interesting place because in the past it was always the traditional media that could be sanctioned for violations.
“But now it seems that practically everyone on social media who chooses to publicise the proceedings of a court will be subject to the restrictions that the traditional media have always had,’’ he said.
The vice president commended the Gavel International for putting the important conversation together.
He said he looked forward for more of such conversation especially around virtual court proceedings as the implications for procedural laws were broad and deep.
Osinbajo added that the Attorneys-General of Lagos and Ekiti States deserved commendation for bringing the matter before the Supreme Court.