Justice Ayotunde Philips was on Thursday, June 14, 2012 inaugurated as the 14th Chief Judge of Lagos State. She is the fourth female to occupy the position. The first female to occupy the office and, in fact, the first female Chief Judge in Nigeria, was Justice Rosaline Omotosho (from 1995 to 1996.) Following Omotosho, was Justice Ibitola Sotiminu (from 2001 to 2004). The third was Philips’ predecessor, Justice Inumidun Akande, who assumed the office in 2009 and retired on June 10, 2012.
Philips’ assumption of office will also go down in history in the state as the first time a female will succeed a female Chief Judge.
Philips was born on July 26, 1949 in London, United Kingdom. She was the Head Judge of the Lagos Division of the state High Court until June 10, 2012, when she stepped in as the Acting Chief Judge upon the retirement of her predecessor.
The new CJ, whose younger sister, Justice Funmilayo Atilade, is next to her in rank among the serving Lagos judges, was called to the Nigerian Bar in 1974. The CJ and her sister, are among the four children of Justice James Williams, who was a judge in the state.
Philips joined the Lagos State Ministry of Justice in 1990 and rose to become the Director of Civil Litigation, the position which she held until she was appointed a judge in February 1994.
At her swearing-in ceremony presided over by Governor Babatunde Fashola on Thursday, Philips expressed her resolve to leave the judiciary better than she met it.
She said, “I come to the headship of this great institution with a burning desire to leave the judiciary much better than I met it.
“What you can expect and what you certainly do deserve is a functional, efficient judiciary to complement the efforts of government in the administration of justice and that is what I promise we will try to achieve.”
While she acknowledged that the state judiciary was facing enormous challenges because Lagos was a “very litigious society,” she promised to improve justice delivery in the state. The CJ, who at 62, is reputed to be a judge who makes wide use of Information Technology in the discharge of her duties, has also promised to computerise the state judiciary.
Philips said, “The huge population we have and the very litigious society that we live in today makes disputes almost inevitable in Lagos State. And I am not unaware of the challenges many litigants face in this regard.
“Some of these challenges are fundamental, and we will try to tackle them head on. In short while, for instance, the Lagos State Judiciary will begin to implement a total computerisation programme in bite-size phases that our existing infrastructure can accommodate.
“Our emphasis will be on pragmatism and sustainability. We want practical, workable and lasting solutions; so we will initially err on the side of caution and introduce technology gradually to improve the way we administer justice in Lagos High Court.”
Other areas Philips also promised to give attention to are, upgrading and equipping the libraries in the Ikeja and Lagos Judicial Divisions; jail delivery and prison decongestion and improving on welfare of staff.
She called on the members of the bar and the public at large to treat the judiciary with respect, frowning at those who chose the press as platform for “bashing” judges.
She said, “Let me also seize this opportunity to comment about an increasingly common practice of what I call “judge bashing”. This worrying tendency, particularly from members of the bar, does not do the profession or the institution any good, especially when the critic’s preferred medium of expression is the press.
“The judges of the High Court of Lagos State have heavier case loads than any other courts that I know in Africa. We do not have the luxury of going to the press to complain and this I assure you is not for want of things to complain about.”
She therefore promised to run an open door administration which welcomes “those who have genuine reasons to complain and my door will be open to those who are desirous to see us progress.”
She added, “However, for those who have scores to settle, my doors are most firmly shut.
“We are by no means perfect but we do our best. And we will continue to do so. All we ask is for the institution to be treated with the respect and the regard that it deserves both inside and outside the court room.
“In this regard, I hope to collaborate very closely with the Nigerian Bar Association at both the branch and national levels to raise the standard of our profession.”
She also expressed satisfaction over “the mutual respect that the three arms of government in Lagos State share”, adding that the judiciary would continue to play its role in the Fashola-led administration’s goal of developing Lagos into Africa’s model megal-city.
She said the goal could not be achieved without the interdependence of the three arms of government and “a strict adherence to law and order.”
“We are just as mindful of our pioneering role in the context of the Nigerian judiciary. We recognise that where we in Lagos State go, other judiciaries follow and we take the burden that this responsibility places on us very seriously. We will therefore do all we can to ensure that the centre of excellence continues to be supported by a strong, virile, disciplined judiciary,” she said.
For his part, Fashola expressed satisfaction over Philips’s appointment as the CJ. He describe her as a fearless, independent, reformist and an information technology judge.
“Not only have we appointed a fearless and independent judge, we have appointed a reformist and Information Technology Chief judge,” the governor said.
Observers will be expecting Philips to, in the two years she has to steer the ship of the state judiciary, bring these and other attributes to bear in making the Lagos judiciary reliable, responsive and a true last hope of the common man.
Source: The Punch
Big Ups to all Female Children in Nigeria!