The Nigerian judiciary must embrace technology and innovation, not only for the evolution of the profession and national development but also to ensure that the country’s justice delivery mechanism is run on a system of enforceable, discernible laws and efficient institutions, according to Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, SAN.
Prof. Osinbajo stated this in a pre-recorded speech on Monday as guest speaker at the 2021 Annual Law Week of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) Lagos Branch, themed ‘Disruption, Innovation and The Bar’.
According to the Vice President, innovation in Nigeria’s legal profession requires urgency in both thought and action, especially in a world which currently thrives on knowledge economy, and where some jobs, including legal jobs, are being threatened by digitization and Artificial Intelligence (AI).
Citing the example of how continuous improvement in the quality of smartphone cameras disrupted global sales of digital camera, the VP observed that now “AI is commonly used to perform tasks such as legal research and due diligence, document and contract review, and the prediction of legal outcomes – these are tasks that would have been performed by lawyers.”
“With the continuing progress in technology, it is only a matter of time before the time capsule catches up with us in Nigeria,” he stated while calling for continuous improvement in the institutional capacity of judges, court registries, court staff, and court infrastructure.
“As digitalisation has already disrupted other industries, it is possible to predict that AI will go further and disrupt the business model of the legal industry.
“For example, the AI legal service called ROSS is an AI system that can research and offer legal opinions about questions that may be posed by lawyers. And ROSS is then able to provide an answer; a properly considered legal opinion, taking into account the case laws and statutory authority in order to be able to come to that conclusion… So, providing predictive legal opinion is no longer the exclusive domain of lawyers, and as the years go by, it will become even more so.
“We are part of the global marketplace for investment and legal services. So, the extent to which we can attract business to our country depends in part upon investor perception of the quality of our justice delivery system. If we are seen as inefficient and ineffective, we would lose out to more efficient systems.”
Delay in justice delivery
Speaking on the issue of delay in the country’s justice delivery process, Prof. Osinbajo further noted that the country’s judiciary ought to find ways to tackle jurisdictional challenges, particularly delays in court judgments, among others.
“I argued an appeal at the Court of Appeal in 2013, only to learn yesterday as I discussed with former colleagues in the law firm where I worked, that the appeal at the Supreme Court is not even listed to be heard in 2021. As someone said; our problem is not access to justice, it is exiting the justice system with some credible result.
“Should we not be evolving a cost award system that recognizes the court as a finite public resource, and as such delays and other dilatory tactics are visited with deterrent costs?”