By Lateef Ibrahim, Abuja
Nigeria yesterday joined 52 other Commonwealth nations to brainstorm on major issues affecting access to justice, especially by vulnerable persons and groups, as a three-day conference for Attorneys-General and Ministers of Justice opened in Colombo, Sri-Lanka.
The Commonwealth justice ministers will, in the course of the meeting, also explore ways of strengthening and making the justice system in their countries more accessible to citizens.
Nigeria’s Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami, who is representing Nigeria at the meeting, dropped the hint in a brief he made available to journalists in Nigeria through his Special Adviser on Media, Dr. Umar Gwandu.
He said the meeting x-rayed the current state of access to justice globally and decried lack of equal access to justice and rule of law which was attributed to factors such as complex legal system, cost and poverty, lack of legal aid financing, fragmentation of legal and justice providers, complex legal language, limited legal capacity, distrust of justice system and corruption.
According to the Minister, the Nigerian government was worried about the danger of hate speech and had called for collaborative action in addressing it because of its divisive tendency as an item for future engagement of Commonwealth nations.
Malami, who described hate speech as a “divisive weapon jeopardizing peaceful co-existence”, said the 2019 meeting would also deliberate on contemporary key legal issues including: electronic evidence, data protection, reform of civil procedure, International Commercial Arbitration, anti-corruption, access to justice and vulnerable persons in the justice system.
The Attorneys-General and Ministers of Justice meeting is also expected to discuss the relevance of and the opportunities presented by international arbitration to address commercial disputes between businesses in the Commonwealth countries as alternative dispute resolution mechanism.
In the words of Malami, “In view of exponential increase in the use of electronic evidence, the meeting will also deliberate on the impact of the volatile nature of the technology in the probative value of evidence.
“The outcome of the meeting will see to the possible reviews of existing model laws in the approaches to the use of electronic evidence in investigation of cyber and traditional crimes in the Commonwealth nations”, he said.
In her message at the meeting, the Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, Rt. Hon. Patricia Scotland QC said the Commonwealth Law Ministers Meeting provided a forum for exchange of ideas on connected contemporary legal intricacies of Commonwealth countries with diverse cultural inheritances and similar legal and administrative approaches.