The Position of the Law on Mobile Courts and its Procedure in Nigeria
Society is often fraught with different kinds of disputes, which could either be civil or criminal in nature. The court, therefore, is the body, vested with the power to hear and resolve disputes amicably. However, there is widespread dissatisfaction with the delay in the administration of justice by the court. It is for this reason that mobile courts which grant speedy justice delivery are very much appreciated. This is because the normal process of trial in the court does not apply to mobile courts.
What is a Mobile Court?
Before defining a mobile court, it is necessary to define the individual words. According to Black’s Law Dictionary, a court is ‘a governmental body consisting of one or more judges who sit to adjudicate disputes and administer justice.’1 Judges usually deliver judgement in a fixed place referred to as the courtroom.
The term ‘mobile’ is the ability to move (either a person or a thing) from one place to another. The joining of both words, therefore, means that a mobile court allows the court to hear and decide on matters in changeable or moveable locations. According to Hosen and Ferdous, ‘mobile court connotes a special arrangement of the court which moves from place to place, as opposed to, the court in the enclosed place, to adjudicate laws for the ulterior purpose of ensuring justice.’2 Mobile courts afford citizens access to quick justice delivery and this is the reason many countries even Nigeria, have adopted the system.
Establishment and Legality of Mobile Courts in Nigeria
The constitution of Nigeria which is the supreme law of the land and from which all other laws derives its power vested all judicial powers of the federation in the court3. The constitution further listed all the courts in the federation, to which there was no provision for mobile courts. However, it empowered the law-making body or the legislative arm of government which is the National Assembly or State House of Assembly of each state to establish courts other than those already listed4.
Accordingly, S 10 (8) of the Federal Road Safety Act 2007 provides that ‘The Chief Judge of a State or the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja shall have the power to establish special or mobile courts for the purpose of speedy trial of traffic offenders.’ Therefore, it means that mobile courts are a product of enabling laws and are therefore legal.
While the Chief Judge of a state has the power to set up a mobile court, mobile courts are often presided by the magistrates as appointed by the Chief Judge5. This is not surprising because magistrate courts are a court of summary jurisdiction created to deliver efficient justice.
In the same vein, mobile courts which are presided over by magistrates are aimed at delivering speedy judgement. It is, therefore, safe to draw a conclusion that a Mobile Court sits as a Magistrate Court for the purposes of dispensing justice speedily in special cases such as traffic offences, and sanitation. A similar procedure of the magistrate court will thus be applicable in a mobile court.
Offences to Which Mobile Courts Have Jurisdiction
The mobile court has become popular due to its summary discharge of trials with respect to traffic offences, environmental/sanitation offences, and offences relating to curfew violations. The Federal Road Safety Act of 20076 made provision for the establishment of special or mobile courts for the trial of traffic offenders. Anyone in violation of these offences can either be fined, imprisoned or both upon trial and conviction by the mobile court.
In keeping up with the provision of this Act and to ensure sanity on the road, The Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) in the dispensation of its functions books erring motorists in violation of traffic laws and sends them to the mobile court for trial.
In 2016, the Lagos State Government, inaugurated the Special Offences (Mobile) Court to summarily deal with growing cases of traffic and environmental abuses in the state7. Under criminal law, a person is only guilty of an offence if it is known to law or prescribed in a written law.8 Hence, ‘The Lagos State Road Traffic Law, 2012, Street Trading and Illegal Markets Prohibition Law, 2003, Lagos State Traffic Management Law (2018) and the Lagos State Environmental Sanitation Law, 2000 are some of the laws that provide for traffic offences and thus gives mobile court’s jurisdiction to hear them.
Some of these offences include; driving against traffic, refusing to obey traffic signs like zebra crossings and traffic lights indications, individuals/citizens crossing the highways where pedestrian bridges are provided, driving on the BRT by non-designated vehicles and parking at undesignated places, commercial buses on motion with their doors open.
Mobile courts are not only used to try erring motorists. Mobile courts also hear matters that have to do with environmental abuse. During the Covid-19 pandemic, the government passed various laws in an attempt to curb the spread of the disease.
The laws mandated everyone to wear a face mask, maintain social distancing in a public environment and banned public gatherings of over 50 people. Special taskforces were set up in various states to ensure this was followed and where citizens were found to violate the law, they were arrested and tried by mobile courts.
In Abuja, Eagle Square which is famous for hosting concerts, rallies, and even presidential inaugurations become home to a mobile court where offenders of the Covid-19 rules were prosecuted9. Many other states like Kwara and Anambra also set up mobile courts to try Covid-19 violators.
In conclusion, the use of mobile courts is a good contribution to the criminal justice system. This is because it tackles the delay with which justice is delivered. No one should be unnecessarily delayed or denied access to justice and so, a system that gives its citizen speedy access to justice should be welcomed and embraced.
1 Bryan A. Garner (ed), Black’s Law Dictionary, 2004 Thomson West, St Paul Minnesota Pg 378.
2 Hosen, G. D and Ferdous, S.Y (2010) ‘The Role of Mobile Courts in the Enforcement of Laws in Bangledesh’ The Northern University Journal of Law, Vol 1
3 S 6 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (1999) as amended
4 S 6 (5) ibid
5 S 60 (1) Magistrates’ Court Law of Anambra State, 1991
6 S 10 (8) Federal Road Safety Act 2007
8 S 36 (12) 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (1999) as amended