Improving lower courts

Most people seeking formal justice do so through the lower courts. In Kaduna State in 2009/2010 lower courts handled 70,786 cases, while higher courts handled 4,076 cases.

In spite of higher relative case loads, lower courts have suffered from a lack of investment for many years. Lower courts are unable to provide the quality of service that users have a right to expect.

What people say about J4A's work

'It is now that I feel like judicial staff. I now have the knowledge of how to relate effectively with colleagues and litigants. I have been equipped to provide better services and I have a better attitude to work, with a good understanding of how important it is to treat people equally and equitably.'

- Senior Register

Our aim

  • Support selected lower courts to deliver more efficient and higher quality justice services by introducing standard operating procedures for the basic functioning of the different types of lower courts
  • Increase understanding among court personnel that justice is a service that should be provided with appropriate level of care and in an equitable manner by improving the skills and capacity of judges and court officials to deliver professional services
  • Encourage court users to demand higher standards of service from their courts by creating an understanding of the need for accountability and monitoring of courts and by building the capacity of oversight structures and bodies to provide relevant services in the lower courts
  • Demonstrate the positive impact of the improvements in the lower courts on the judiciary as a whole by encouraging the replication of good practices in the selected courts to other lower courts in the state

Our approach

  • Assessing the causes of inefficiency and poor service in lower courts
  • Training judges, courts staff and inspectors in case management, court user service, inspections etc.
  • Developing policies, guidelines and tools to enhance better service delivery
  • Reviewing disposal rate of cases and develop case management systems

Who we work with

Heads of courts and courts staff

  • Enugu Magistrates' and Customary courts
  • Kaduna State Magistrates', Sharia and Customary courts
  • Jigawa State Sharia courts

Other justice mechanisms and service providers

  • Attorney Generals of the states
  • National Judicial Institute (NJI)
  • Legal Aid Council of Nigeria

Justice Reform Teams (JRTs):

  • Enugu
  • Kaduna
  • Jigawa

Delivering results

There has been a rise in level of court user satisfaction:

Enugu Customary Court

  •     2012: 89%
  •     2013: 92%

Kaduna Magistrates' Court

  •     2012: 71%
  •     2013: 73%

Ten courses have been developed for training of court staff and inspectors:

  • Case management
  • Records management
  • Powers and jurisdiction of courts
  • Role and responsibilities of bailiffs 
  • Ethics and code of conduct
  • Equal treatment and court user service
  • Court inspections
  • Alternative dispute resoution and restorative justice
  • Judgement writing
  • Evidence

In Enugu the following have been implemented:

  • Draft time standards developed for magistrates courts
  • Complaints system now functional in customary courts
  • Inspections and time standards now institutionalised in customary courts

In Kaduna the following have been implemented:

  • Time standards and inspections adopted through practice direction for customary courts
  • Draft performance management framework developed for all lower courts
  • Time it takes to dispose of cases in Magistrates’ Courts reduced to 252 days in Sept 2013 (from 593 days in August 2011)
  • Time it takes to dispose cases in Sharia courts reduced to 14 days in Sept 2013 (from 52 days in Dec 2012)

Spotlight on gender

  • In Kaduna, 56 court staff have been trained in equal treatment and gender rights in the lower courts.
  • There has been renewed commitment and understanding by court heads and staff to gender equality in all aspects of their work.