By Williams Anuku, Abuja
A new precedent regarding virtual court sittings was set on Tuesday by the Supreme Court, striking out litigation by both Lagos and Ekiti states on the constitutionality of virtual court proceedings.
The apex court in throwing the suit away, said with the exigencies of Covid-19 virtual court hearings were constitutional and therefore stands.
Justice Olabode Rhodes-Vivour, who led a seven-man panel of the apex court held that virtual court sittings were presumed to be valid and therefore, the court cannot declare it unconstitutional.
Following the pandemic coronavirus and the consequent lockdown as well as the gradual ease off of the nation’s economy, many states’ chief justices had directed virtual court proceedings.
But the decision was met but with mixed reactions. While some judges, judicial officers, lawyers said virtual court sittings were unconstitutional, others had said that was part of the new order the pandemic had placed on the world.
But at the resumed hearing of the suits filed by both Lagos and Ekiti states on the matter, members of the panel dismissed fears expressed in some quarters.
According to the panel, judges should not entertain any doubt and fear of remote hearings in the country.
They maintained that the Chief Judges of the states that had issued practice direction to provide for virtual sitting when convenient had the duty to enforce the directive.
They made the comments during the hearing of separate suits filed by the Attorneys-General of Lagos and Ekiti states on the adoption of remote hearings by judges in their states.
The panel described the suits of both the Lagos and Ekiti states’ AGs as speculative as the suits did not disclose how virtual proceedings had injured the interest or right of anyone.
Both the Lagos State AG, Moyosore Onigbanjo (SAN), and that of Ekiti State, Olawale Fapohunda, then withdrew the suits after members of the apex court panel described the suits as academic and speculative.
In striking out the suit, Justice Rhodes-Vivour held that “as of today, virtual sitting is not unconstitutional”.
While Lagos State filed its suit challenging the power of the National Assembly to amend section 274 of the Constitution which seeks including virtual proceedings in the Constitution, Ekiti State had urged the court to make an affirmative decision on the issue to remove the speculations and uncertainties being entertained about it by judges.