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Supreme Court Declares Virtual Court Hearings Constitutional

The Supreme Court has declared that virtual court sittings are constitutional and valid.

The apex court made the declaration on Tuesday when it struck out a suit brought by Olawale Fapohunda, the Attorney-General of Ekiti State, against the Attorney-General of the Federation regarding the legality of virtual court sittings.

Apart from the Attorney General of the Federation, the attorney generals of Lagos and Ogun States who have implemented virtual court proceedings were also listed as second and third defendants.

The virtual court sittings were introduced by Abubakar Malami, the Attorney-General of the Federation, in April due to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Fapohunda had asked the apex court to determine whether the directive issued by the AGF to the Heads of Courts at Federal and State levels, as it relates to the conduct of virtual proceedings in court, is not a violation of the federalism provisions of the 1999 Constitution.

He also asked the court to determine if the directive issued in line with the National Judicial Council (NJC) is not a violation of the constitutional provisions on fair hearing as it relates to the conduct of criminal trials in public.

The Ekiti AG also asked the court to set aside or strike down directives to the extent that they purport to be binding on the Ekiti State High Court for being inconsistent with the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

Ekiti State further asked that the Supreme Court determines 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.

But in a unanimous judgement on Tuesday, a seven-man panel, led by Justice Olabode Rhodes-Vivour declared that as at today, virtual court sittings are not unconstitutional.

The suit was also struck out on grounds that it was speculative and failed to show any cause of action.

The court further held that the National Assembly is constitutionally empowered to make and amend laws and any Judge that refuses to sit virtually should be reported to the NJC and removed from the bench.

The apex court also struck out a suit brought by the Attorney-General of Lagos State on the validity of virtual court hearings.

 

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