The Chief Judge of Lagos State, Justice Opeyemi Oke has inaugurated Small Claims’ Courts as part of efforts to fast-track justice delivery in commercial disputes involving small claims.
The inauguration of the Small Claims Courts, the first in the country, took place at JIC Taylor Court House, Igbosere, Lagos.
Justice Oke said that the courts would operate at the magistrate level and adjudicate on claims not exceeding N5 million.
She recalled that the establishment of the courts was one of the reforms she promised to carry out to move the Lagos Judiciary forward in her inaugural address last year, adding that 15 magistrate courts have been designated as Small Claims Courts within the five judicial divisions in the State.
The Chief Judge declared that, “Coincidentally, the Presidential Enabling Business Environment Council (PEBEC), a World Bank initiative, under the office of the Vice President on the Ease of Doing Business in Nigeria, also has as part of its reforms – ‘Enforcement of Contracts’ – with the introduction of specialized small claims commercial courts at the centre of the reforms. For this purpose, two states were chosen as Pilot States, Lagos State and Kano State”.
Justice Oke stated that in January this year, she set up a five-member Small Claims Court Committee comprising a Judge of the High Court, Justice Yetunde Adesanya, as Chairman and four Magistrates, three of whom she said are Chief Magistrates with administrative portfolios, in fulfilment of her commitment to the Lagos State Judiciary and the court’s role in the provision of an Enabling Business Environment Initiative.
According to her, the committee was required to draft Small Claims Court procedures and guidelines and make recommendations for matters incidental to the workings of the Small Claims Courts within the Magistrates Courts’ system.
She stated: “The Small Claims Court’s Procedure is simplified, in that every step has been reduced into standard forms, which the claimant or defendant/counterclaimant as the case may be, simply fills and files, i.e. Letter of demand, Complaint Form, Claim’s Form/Summons among others”.
“The entire hearing period from the first date of hearing, inclusive of the time allowed for exploring amicable settlements must not exceed 30 days. The entire period of proceedings from filing till judgment is not to exceed 60 days”, she stated.
The State Attorney General, Mr. Adeniji Kazeem, in his remarks at the occasion, said that the establishment of the courts will complement the efforts of Governor Akinwunmi Ambode’s administration geared towards enhancing justice delivery.
He noted the courts are features of developed countries like Britain, Russia, America and Japan among others.
Kazeem remarked that Lagos State, through the various reforms being implemented in the judiciary by the Chief Judge, Justice Oke, contributed immensely towards the rating of the country as the eighth among ten most improved countries by the World Bank.
He commended the Chief Judge for her foresight for the establishment of the Small Claims Court which he described as “a worthy legacy and succour to legal and business community”.
Senior Special Assistant (SSA) to the President on Enabling Business Environment Council in the office of the Vice President, Dr. Jumoke Oduwole, commended Justice Oke and the Lagos Judiciary for being the first Judiciary to break the World Bank deadline of April 30.
While expressing delight at the establishment of the courts, Dr. Oduwole stressed the need for the training of the Magistrates that will adjudicate on matters involving small claims to ensure fast and efficient justice delivery.