Stop writing Lengthy Judgements – Lawyers tell Judges

Legal practitioners in Lagos on Thursday called on judges to depart from the culture of writing lengthy judgments and rulings in order to save judicial time.

They argued that in the face of overwhelming cases pending in courts, it was no longer judicious for judges to write judgments running into over hundred pages.

This argument was made in Ikoyi, Lagos, during the public presentation of the second edition of Babalola’s Law Dictionary of Judicially Defined Words and Phrases.

The event attracted the Chief Judge of Oyo State, Justice Muktar Abimbola, who was represented by Justice Iyabo Yerima; as well as Senior Advocates of Nigeria, including Mr Uche Obi, Mr Seyi Sowemimo, Mr Adeyinka Olumide-Fusika and Prof Kayinsola Ajayi, who was represented by his junior, Mr Olaniyi Osotuyi.

Also present were the Chairman, Nigerian Bar Association, Lagos branch, Mr Yemi Akangbe; and the Director, Lagos State Office of the Public Defender, Mrs Yinka Adeyemi, who represented the Lagos State Solicitor-General.

In his opening remarks, the author, Mr Olumide Babalola, explained that apart from the public presentation of the Law dictionary, the gathering was aimed at bringing senior lawyers and members of the judiciary together to deliberate on the relevance of lengthy judgments by the courts in the face of overwhelming court dockets.

He observed that in most cases, most of what makes a judgment lengthy is the arguments of the lawyers which the judge tries to narrate before giving his own decision.

Babalola wondered if it was not possible for the judges to do away with narration of counsel arguments, which he said had on many occasions created confusion, with some lawyers wrongly taking arguments of counsel as the decision of the judge.

He said, “Some judgments have close to 100 pages; and from page one to 99, what you will see are arguments of counsel. The remaining one page is actually the decision of the court.

“It has happened in court one time, when a counsel cited an argument of counsel as the decision of the court and it is very easy to get lost in that when you are reading the entire judgment.

“I got a judgment in 2017; it was just five pages and a lawyer called me and said, ‘Are you sure this is the court judgment?’ and I said yes.

“The lawyer was surprised because what we are used to is having lengthy judgments. So, when we don’t have lengthy judgments, we disparage the judge as rather lazy. I keep reading old decisions of the Supreme Court; some of them, three pages, some five pages, 1976, 1980s decisions of the Supreme Court and they captured the point.

“So, if that could be done in the past when they didn’t have this number of cases, I think it calls for deliberation and recommendation, for the judiciary to see whether we still need to continue to have lengthy decisions.”

Mr Uche Obi (SAN), who delivered the keynote address, backed Olumide’s argument in his paper.

He said, “Unduly lengthy and wordy judgments are, in the considered view of this speaker, elitist and many a times incomprehensible.

“We should shed the customary thinking that core issues for determination in every dispute cannot be sufficiently addressed unless a ‘treatise’ has been written. Observing brevity in judgment writing, in a constructive and pragmatic manner, will usually be adequate in distilling the relevant issues for determination.”

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