A member of the Association of Lawyers with Disability in Nigeria (ALDIN), Mr Festus Okpeh, has urged the courts to give priority attention to lawyers with disability while hearing cases.
Okpeh, the Head of Media and Publicity Committee of ALDIN, said that the courts should apply the provisions of the National Disability Act, 2018, for the benefit of Lawyers with Disabilities (LWDs).
He spoke with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Lagos on Saturday.
While acknowledging that progress has been made in recent times with respect to dealing with Persons with Disabilities PWDs and LWDS, Okpeh urged that more should to 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 priortised 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 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.
Okpeh said that it was wrong for a young lawyer with 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 said 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 disability.
In addition, 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. (NAN)