Friday, March 24, 2023

Courts urged to consider lawyers with disability in scheme of affairs

“The judiciary should be more accessible both physically and otherwise for lawyers with disability,” he said.

• December 17, 2022
Lawyers with disabilities
Lawyers with disabilities [Photo Credit; Vanguard news]

A member of the Association of Lawyers with Disability in Nigeria (ALDIN), Festus Okpeh, has urged the courts to give priority attention to lawyers with a disability while hearing cases. 

In an interview, Mr Okpeh, the head of the media and publicity committee of ALDIN, said the courts should apply the provisions of the National Disability Act 2018 for the benefit of Lawyers with Disabilities (LWDs). 

While acknowledging that progress has been made in recent times for dealing with Persons with Disabilities PWDs and  LWDS, Mr Okpeh urged that more should be made.

“There is now the Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities Act, 2018 (the National Disability Act), which does not only criminalise all forms of discrimination against PWDs but also seeks to equalise opportunities for all in the use of scarce resources, be it employment, education or access to public facilities

“In addition, the newly-established Nigerian Bar Association-Lawyers with Disabilities Forum (NBA-LWDF) ensures that the welfare and rights of lawyers with disability are prioritised and mainstreamed within the programmes of the bar.

“However, I would like to see a more sympathetic adjudication of justice by our courts; the courts should be amenable to ensuring equality and guaranteeing equal access to justice for all. 

“The judiciary should be more accessible both physically and otherwise for lawyers with disability,” he said.

He advised that the court should see the use of technology not as an aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic but as a necessity to equalise access to court and justice for LWDs.

“Assistive devices are not mere appendages to PWDs and LWDs but a part of them, without which their constitutionally-guaranteed right to access to court/justice will be undermined,” he added. 

Mr Okpeh said it was wrong for a young lawyer with a disability, who was seated at the bar at 9:00 a.m. for a court session, to wait for hours for the court to exhaust other cases in the cause list.

“Section 8(4) of the Legal Practitioners’ Act (LPA), 2004, in the First Schedule, provides for the table of precedence. This is against the spirit of the National Disability Act, which provides that in any queue, PWDs must be given first consideration.

“It is submitted that the cause list is nothing more than a queue (wait list) of lawyers waiting to be heard by the court, and the court should be guided by the overriding provision of Section 26,” he said.

He stated that the court might, on its own, invoke the provision or be inclined to grant an oral application praying it to invoke the spirit of the provision by a lawyer with a disability.

In addition, Mr Okpeh said that under section 6(a) of the constitution, the court possessed the powers to prioritise the interests of LWDs, having recourse to equality, equity, and social justice.


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