The Enugu State Multi-Door Courthouse (ESMDC)

The journey taken by the Lagos Multi-Door Courthouse (LMDC) from when it first started till now is a clear indication that there is a buy-in from all stakeholders and disputants that ADR through the LMDC works because of its success story -with access to justice as some literature has revealed.

There is now a shift for a change in the psyche of the citizenry that litigation is not the one way or the only way to resolve disputes but there are alternatives that are available and being provided by the court-connected ADR centre within the high court of Lagos state which is the Lagos multi-door courthouse. It is vital to point out that other states in Nigeria have emulated the LMDC by replicating the MDC Model because of its effectiveness of delivering speedy dispensation of justice to its citizenry. One can see the impact the LMDC has had on its citizenry on the justice delivery of Lagos state not only here in Lagos but in other states like Abuja, Ogun and in Enugu state.

Chinwe at the Enugu State Multi-Door Courthouse (ESMDC).

For Instance, the Enugu State Multi-Door Courthouse (ESMDC) on the 6th Sept 2018 opened its doors to the public. ESMDC was conceived to offer alternative dispute resolution methods for resolving commercial disputes and ensure speedy justice delivery within the State.

The scheme like that of Lagos is currently incorporated as part of the public justice system with the  Objectives set out in sec 4 of the ESMDC as follows:

  1. Enhance access to justice by providing alternative mechanisms to supplement litigation in the resolution of disputes;
  2. Minimise citizen frustration and delays in justice delivery by providing a standard legal framework for the fair and efficient settlements of disputes through Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR);
  3. Serve as the focal point for the promotion of Alternative Disputes Resolution in Enugu State, and
  4. Promote the growth and effective functioning of the justice system through Alternative Dispute Resolution methods.

These objectives are the same as that of LMDC and other MDC in Nigeria because it was structured after the LMDC scheme or model, so virtually all the LMDC is empowered to do under the law, ESMDC is authorised to do same. It is essential to point out that both schemes offer facilitative mediation and not evaluative. They also don’t send evaluation back to the court because that is the underlying principle of ADR -it’s a confidential process. It’s imperative to also point out that a neutral, opens an informal platform of discussion with disputing parties. Where the discussion is without prejudice, they can either follow it through and sign the Terms of Settlement (TOS) but afterwards, they cannot carry it over to the court because of the confidential nature of ADR.

Hence, upon the completion of ADR proceedings in ESMDC, settlement agreements, which are duly signed by the parties, shall be enforced as a consent Judgement between the parties and the ADR Judge further endorses such contracts, it shall stand as a judgement of the Court.[1]

It is also essential to draw attention to some of the Functions and Powers of the ESMDC which includes-

1) Apply mediation, arbitration, neutral evaluation and any other ADR mechanisms in the resolution of such disputes as may be referred to the ESMDC, from the High Court, Magistrate Court and Courts of other jurisdiction outside Enugu State, Federal courts, private persons, Corporations, Public Institutions and Dispute Resolution Organisations,

2) Encourage disputing parties to appear before ESMDC for the resolution of their disputes;

  • Assist disputants in the resolution of their conflicts or disputes and act as administrators in the conduct of ADR proceedings locally or internationally;
  • Publicise its services by informing and sensitising the public about its facilities.

Additionally, in sec 25 (1) of the ESMDC aligned with the provisions of the order 25 Rule 1(I)(c) of the Rules of the High Court of Enugu State Civil; Procedure Rules. Which requires the judges to encourage and refer cases that are suited to ADR to ESMDC to facilitate just and speedy disposal of cases.[2] Thus the Chief Judge under the ESMDC law must initiate such practice directions as he or she may deem fit as may be necessary for the effective administration and prompt delivery of the ADR services at the ESMDC.

Sect 26(1) postulates the responsibility of the counsel, and they are well integrated as part of the ESMDC programme and have an obligation to the Court, the ESMDC and the legal profession to give due consideration and support to suggestions, Orders and Directives from the Court for an amicable settlement of ongoing matters to the ESMDC.

Sect 27(1) also provides the roles of disputing parties thus, disputing parties have a responsibility to the ESMDC to cooperate with ESMDC officials in the administration of their dispute and to comply with the Directives and Orders of Court for the adoption of ADR procedures for resolving their claims or issues.

This blogger deployed qualitative approach, by phone conversation to get feedback on how this scheme has fared so far.  Has the programme been able to achieve the overall function on its set objectives and the one set out by its predecessors (LMDC)?

This blogger asked the following questions in a bid to answer the questions mentioned above; hence a stakeholder Mr Benjamin Aneke was able to provide the following answers:

What are the scopes of cases covered by the ESMDC? At the ESMDC provides clients and their counsel with effective alternatives for resolving disputes in commercial, family, land, trespass, inheritance, defamation & libel, landlord & tenant, and other conflicts. It has also dealt with some criminal aspect like simple offences and misdemeanours only except felonies (Restorative Justice Door).

Q2: What percentage of dispute resolution does or has ESMDC cover?

   Ans: Total Case Load – 100

– Walk-In Matters – 46

– Court Referred Matters – 54 (Magistrate Court – 4, High Court -50)

  • Settled Cases – 26
  • Not Settled Matters -2
  • Ongoing Matters -43
  • Matters not yet at the ADR Intervention Stage- 22
  • Non- Submissions – 1
  • Matters KIV at the request of Applicant – 5
  • KIV by ESMDC -3
  • Arbitration – 1

Q4: Has the existence or creation of ESMDC, impacted on the volume of civil disputes before the state courts?

Ans: From our statistics, I would say yes, of course, the establishment of the ESMDC has impacted on the volume of civil disputes on the Judiciary delivery of Access to Justice. For Instance, 54 court referrals have been made so far (Magistrate Court – 4, High Court -50). And court referrals have increased from 2018 to date. The Centre is optimistic that there will be much more court referrals coming on board as the Judges and Magistrates workshop was concluded on 26th Mar 2019.

Q5: What dispute resolution process is preferred?

Ans: Mediation.

Q7. How many trained mediators and arbitrators are on the ESMDC Panel of neutrals?

Ans: Currently, ten trained Mediator is on the ESMDC panel of Neutrals. Just recently, 24 new Mediators were trained in February, who are awaiting mentorship/coaching for onward reception into the Panel of Neutral. The ESMDC is still collating the list of certified Arbitrators.

Q8. Is ESMDC now situated or located within the premises of the Enugu state courts?

Ans: Yes. The ESMDC as a court-connected ADR Centre is situated and located within the Enugu State High Court complex.

Q9: Has ESMDC made use of the settlement week?

Ans: Not Yet, The first settlement week is scheduled for July/ August 2019.

Conclusion:

This system is emerging because courts have become congested due to multiple factors of adjournment culture, too few judges dealing with ever-increasing of cases, lack the necessary infrastructure and many other factors. To address these complex phenomenon, Kehinde Aina in collaboration with the Nigerian government reacted by introducing the LMDC which has gone on to make a massive impact on the speedy dispensation of justice in Lagos state but also on other states like Enugu. Going by the data, unlike its predecessors Lagos State Multi-Door Courthouse (LMDC) who until recently in 2019 started taking on minor offences through the restorative justice door under the magistrate court. ESMDC started taking on minor offences from day one it opened it’s doors to the public. It has been able to accomplish so much by settling half of the cases as depicted above within a short duration of time- 8months from the date of inception September 2018 to March 2019  and they are still waxing strong (settling more claims) to date. Both states have had a varying degree of successes with their experiment with the MDC. The extent to which these innovations have impacted the lives of the disputants is enormous, but yet to be fully appreciated. But two undeniable facts are that the Multi-Door Courthouse is effective and gaining acceptance among the Nigerian populace. So while it continues to be perceived as second to litigation, it impacts on the court list or dockets of the courts remains strong, as more people are seeking solace within the confines of MDC.

[1] Section 28 (1) The Enugu State Multi-door Courthouse Law, 2018.

[2] Section 25(1) The Enugu State Multi-door Courthouse Law, 2018.k

                        author

Chinwe Egbunike-Umegbolu

Chinwe is currently a PhD student and part-time instructor who facilitates seminar groups in business law. She is a volunteer mentor at the Kingston University London, supporting undergraduate students. She is an experienced claims handler with a demonstrated history of working in the legal services and business industry. Chinwe is… MORE >

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