3. Increasing fair resolution rates - what works?

Civil Justice Transformation in Ogun State / 3. Increasing fair resolution rates – what works?
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What do people with civil justice problems do to resolve their problems? Who do they turn to for legal advice? How do they manage to resolve their problems? And what are some of the best practices that have been proven to resolve civil justice problems? The answers to these questions can inform how the civil justice problems in Ogun State could be effectively tackled. 

3.1 What works to resolve and prevent civil justice problems?

75% of the people with a civil justice problem in Nigeria took action to resolve the problem and 62% of those achieved a complete or partial resolution. The JNS survey data show that few individuals use lawyers, police or other justice sector organisations for advice. Only 22% of people with a civil justice problem sought advice from a formal source, such as the police or a lawyer. On the other hand, 71% of people sought advice from an informal source, especially from friends and relatives.

The data show that most problems are currently resolved through combinations of negotiation, mediation and (formal/informal) adjudication. Between 4% and 5% of people who have a problem reached a court or other tribunal. This is in line with what we find in other countries. When asking people why they decided not to involve a formal court, the most common reasons were a lack of money, the problem was perceived as not serious enough, or because people preferred to turn to a traditional or community leader to resolve the problem.

Family problems: divorce or separation

87% of people going through a divorce or separation seek advice from a trusted person, while only 28% seek advice from an institutional source. People rely primarily on relatives (70%) and friends (40%), and to a lesser extent on religious (26%) and traditional leaders (16%). The most common formal source of advice for divorce/separation is a lawyer (11%).

Family problems: domestic violence

76% of people experiencing domestic violence seek advice from a trusted, while only 16% seek advice from an institutional source. People rely primarily on relatives (54%) and friends (38%), and to a lesser extent on religious (15%) and traditional leaders (10%). The most common formal source of advice for domestic violence is the police (7%).

Land problems

84% of Nigerians with a land problem seek advice from a trusted person, while only 46% seek advice from an institutional source. The most popular trusted persons are relatives (47%), friends (39%) and community or traditional leaders (32%). The most popular institutional sources for legal advice are lawyers (27%), the police (13%), and local public authorities (7%).

Neighbour disputes

68% of Nigerians with a neighbour dispute seek advice from a trusted person, while only 15% seek advice from an institutional source. The most popular trusted persons are friends (45%), neighbours (25%), and relatives (23%). The most popular institutional sources for legal advice are the police (6%), lawyers (6%), and local public authorities (3%), but very few people use these providers for advice.

Family problems: divorce or separation

People going through a divorce or separation mainly managed to resolve this through an official court (25%) or public authority (23%). This is likely because of the legalistic nature of a divorce. 

Based on a literature research of potential interventions to resolve family problems, HiiL has identified eight interventions that are most common in addressing family problems. For each of these interventions, a set of best practices for resolving family problems has been studied. These evidence-based practices are mostly aimed at justice practitioners, such as mediators or community leaders, and together provide a guideline on how best to prevent and resolve family problems. More information can be found on the family justice page of the HiiL dashboard.

Family problems: domestic violence

People experiencing domestic violence who said they had resolved this, mostly did so by talking to the other party directly (17%) or with a mediator (20%), or the problem sorted itself out (17%). None of the domestic violence problems were resolved in a court.

Based on a literature research of potential interventions to resolve family problems, HiiL has identified eight interventions that are most common in addressing family problems. For each of these interventions, a set of best practices for resolving family problems has been studied. These evidence-based practices are mostly aimed at justice practitioners, such as mediators or community leaders, and together provide a guideline on how best to prevent and resolve family problems. More information can be found on the family justice page of the HiiL dashboard.

Land problems

Most people who managed to resolve their land problem achieved this through a court decision (24%). This is considerably higher than for other civil justice problems, but it still means three out of four land problems are resolved outside official courts or tribunals. Other ways land problems are resolved is through mediation (17%), a decision from a public authority (15%), and a decision from an informal forum (13%). In only 3% of the cases did the problem sort itself out.

Based on literature research of potential interventions to resolve land problems, HiiL identified eight interventions that are most common in addressing land disputes. For each of these interventions, a set of best practices for resolving land problems has been studied. These evidence-based practices are mostly aimed at justice practitioners, such as mediators or community leaders, and together provide a guideline on how best to prevent and resolve land disputes. More information can be found on the land justice page of the HiiL dashboard.

Neighbour disputes

Most people who managed to resolve their neighbour dispute talked to the other party directly (28%) or with a mediator (24%). This means more than half of all resolved neighbour disputes were resolved by talking to the other party. Only 4% of resolved neighbour disputes were eventually resolved in a formal court.

For different types of problems, HiiL has developed a set of evidence-based best practices for resolving them. A guideline for preventing and resolving neighbour disputes is currently being developed and will become available on the HiiL dashboard.

Interviewed experts supported the finding about the lack of money, but not so much the other reasons mentioned for not using a formal court. When asked about the most important barriers for people trying to resolve their civil justice problems in Ogun State, eight out of twelve experts mentioned the high costs of seeking justice. As one expert from the Ministry of Industry, Trade, and Investment explained:

They often say “o ma na mi l’owo” (It will be expensive). Why should I pay a lawyer so much money? That’s the general perception even among the enlightened.

High costs associated with court procedures may form a barrier, because people do not necessarily believe they will receive the outcome they want. As one expert explained, many people are afraid to go to court and prefer to resolve their problem their own way, because they are afraid it will not lead to a favourable result. It is for this reason this expert, and others as well, always encourage the use of ADR or the multi-door courthouse, as it “will create affection rather than friction.”

Five experts also highlighted the problem of long procedures and a lack of awareness of rights and opportunities. The former is clearly linked to the problem of high costs, as the Director of the Citizens Right Department noted: 

The longer the matter stays in the court, the more expensive it becomes (service fees, filling fees, lawyer’s fees).

It is noticeable that high costs and slow procedures were exclusively discussed in relation to court procedures. Many experts believed ADR in general, and the Ogun State multi-door courthouse in particular, were amongst the most promising resolution mechanisms for civil justice problems in Ogun State. However, it was generally felt that either there is a lack of ADR mechanisms available in Ogun State (3 times) or that not enough people were aware of their rights and opportunities (5 times). As the Senior Advocate of Nigeria explained:

I think when there are ADR centers, it would be much easier to address the other barriers raised. There is an urgent need for ADR in Ogun State.

Another expert argued it was more about awareness:

The main thing is awareness. We need to enlighten more people about the use of ADR.

According to some of the experts, education, information and case examples in local languages (Yoruba) is crucial to make sure people know about the possibilities that exist for addressing disputes.

Finally, some of the other barriers mentioned by experts were corruption and abuse of power, lack of enforcement and compliance of decisions (4 times), and a lack of trust in the competence of officials (3 times).

We have not found data on how SMEs and large companies resolve conflicts in Nigeria or in Ogun State. It is likely, however, that they also use combinations of negotiation, mediation and adjudication.

The stakeholders interviewed suggested procedures at courts may be slow, formal and expensive. This is in line with only 10% of resolutions being achieved by courts or similar tribunals according to survey participants in Nigeria. 

These data suggest a possible way forward for improvements. Integrating negotiation, mediation, settlement and adjudication into civil justice may lead to improved procedures that can increase resolution rates.

Research on dispute system design and effective conflict resolution is ongoing, as is research on procedural justice and effective court procedures. One recommendation from international access to justice research is to focus on outcomes. Questions to guide this can be: what kind of sustainable solutions do people need for land grabbing or other types of justice problem? What are the elements of fair, sustainable peace between these people? What does a great settlement for such a problem look like?

Once the elements of fair and effective outcomes are clearer, progress towards these outcomes can be monitored. Procedures can be improved in such a way that they are more likely to achieve these outcomes.

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