The Federal High Court in Nigeria has adopted the hearing of cases through the virtual means, approving the usage of online technological applications such as Skype and Zoom.
Chief Judge of the Federal High Court (FHC), Justice John Tsoho gave the directive in the new 2020 Practice Directions for the COVID-19 Period, which he said came into effect on May 18, 2020.
The FHC which is the third highest court in the country, has 36 Divisions of the court as of last July parading 82 judges to hear over 200,000 pending cases.
Clarifying the “Practice Directions” authorising judges to adopt online proceedings for court cases in all its judicial divisions, he said such can only be held virtually with the consent of the parties and their counsels, adding that FHC judges cannot hear more than nine cases in a day.
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He said: “Virtual proceeding is hereby adopted for adjudication in the Federal High Court.
“Virtual proceedings can be either by Zoom, Skype or any other audio-visual platform approved by the Court,” the Justice Tsoho said.
Where parties and counsel agree to virtual proceedings in a case, he directed them to liaise with the court’s Registrar to schedule the hearings.
It is after all protocols are fulfilled, the Chief Judge, said, cases for virtual proceedings shall then be stated on the Cause List, posted on the FHC website and communicated to counsel and parties, either by e-mail or any other electronic means.
The notice, he said is in response to growing calls for technology to be infused in court proceedings, but warned that even with the online proceedings, the judge and counsel featuring in such proceedings must also be robed.
“Service of court processes may be effected by e-mails, WhatsApp or as may be directed by the Court, and shall be deemed as good service.
“Service of hearing notices may be effected by e-mail, WhatsApp, text messages or as may be directed by the Court
“The print out of same shall be sufficient proof of service,” it said.
In also keeping with federal and states COVID-19 regulations, the Chief Judge mandates the wearing of face masks and maintaining of social distance.
“Face Masks must be properly worn by everyone within the court premises to cover their mouths and noses at all times.
“Every person within the premises of the court and inside the court room shall observe the requirement of social and physical distancing of not less than 2 meters (6 feet) apart from each other,
“At any given time, there shall not be a congregation of more than ten (10) within the Court premises, except for purposes of court sittings.
“There shall not be more than twenty (20) persons inside the court room including the court staff and counsel at court sittings.”