Informal Justice Court

Podcast (English)

Podcast (Dutch)

Every year, an estimated 15 million people worldwide are incarcerated in prisons without seeing a judge or receiving any legal assistance. This is for example a major problem in Nigeria. In Ikoyi prison, the largest prison in the fast-growing metropolis of Lagos, 90 percent of the prisoners sit in limbo, with no prospect of a speedy trial, with dire consequences for themselves, their families and the overcrowded prisons.
Working closely with Nigerian scientists, artists, theatre makers, NGOs, lawyers and awaiting trial prisoners, Aardschap Foundation set up a moot court in Ikoyi prison: the Informal Justice Court. Awaiting trial, prisoners prepare their criminal case with the help of pro bono lawyers and theatre makers.

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The Informal Justice Court action-research project started in 2018 with extensive fieldwork to courts and prisons in Lagos city. Seminars were organised with scholars, artists and professionals working within the justice and prison system. In order to draw these different stakeholders into one room to interact about this multi-layered problem we set up 2 exhibitions, the “Informal Justice Court Room 1 (2018) and 2 (2019)”, hosted by the African Artists’ Foundation in Lagos. The exhibitions visualised the pre-trial detention system and possible hands-on solutions from all over the world. The Informal Justice Court Rooms became an alternative meeting point to develop the proposition of an action research program; Setting up a Moot court inside the prison where inmates act out their own case. As a result, a partnership with the Public Interest Law Partnership (LPILP) and the Theatre department of UNILAG secured the permission from the Nigerian Correctional Services to conduct the project in Ikoyi Prison.

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In spring of 2021 a tent was set-up on the football pitch in Ikoyi Prison to host the Informal Justice Court where 80 pre-trial inmates acted out their own cases in mock trials. They were assisted by pro bono lawyers and theatre actors. By taking on the different roles present in a formal court, such as judge, prosecutor, defendant and jury, the inmates gained legal knowledge and learned the skills to defend their case in court. Importantly, inmates did not just receive legal help, but they were heard and regained control in their often hopeless situation.

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The stories of the participating inmates are translated in the theatre play ‘Objection Sustained’ by director Tunde Azeez. The play was performed in Ikoyi prison and travels across the country to raise awareness among the general public and policy makers about the issue of unnecessary and prolonged pre-trial detention.

On April 14th 2021, we organised the conference Justice delayed, justice denied? An interdisciplinary evening on accessing justice in Lagos at Alliance Française to share our first insights. Alongside a theatre performance about the project, followed by a round table discussion on implementing alternatives to pretrial detention, the Attorney General Lagos State Moyosore Onigbanjo commented on the Informal Justice Court as a way forward in the challenges of the justice system in Lagos.

The Informal Justice Court program is continued for 2022 in Ikoyi prison and expanded to the female Kiri Kiri prison. The aim is to explore how the program can be applied in other prisons in Nigeria and internationally.

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Location Ikoyi prison Lagos, Nigeria

Period 2018 – 2022

Team Joost van Onna, Melle Smets (Aardschap), Funmi Ayeni (PILP), Tunji Azeez (LASU)
Commisioned by Stichting Aardschap foundation
Pauwhof Fonds, Stimuleringsfonds Creatieve Industrie, Knowledge Platform Security & Rule of Law, Netherlands Embassy in Nigeria (Ministerie van Buitenlandse Zaken)
Sponsor African Artists’ Foundation, Stroom Den Haag, The Hague Institute for Innovation of Law, Alliance Française Lagos, University of Lagos (UNILAG), Nigerian Correctional Services & VU University
Partners Lagos State University, Public Interest Law Partnership, African Artists’ Foundation, Stroom Den Haag, The Hague Institute for Innovation of Law, Alliance Française Lagos, University of Lagos (UNILAG), Nigerian Correctional Services & VU University
In collaboration with “Public Interest Law Partnership: Funmilayo Owuye, Precious Echeozo, Chukwuemeka Monyei, Ojelabi Ayomide, Ogunbiyi Michael & Oluwatayo Olubukola

Theatre team Prof. Tunji Azeez (LASU), Toritseju Ejoh, Segun Adefila, Saheed Azeez, Bagbenga Bamodu & Elerubo Theresa

Pro bono lawyers and firms Akinremi Olaoluwa, Judy Imasuen, Joseph Oriyomi, Dipo Famodimu, Oluwadunsin Komolafe, Zeniath Abiri, Abdulwasiu Esuola, TAYO OYETIBO LP, Prisoners’ Rights Advocacy Initiative, BABGBENGA BAMODU, ENITAN LEGAL PRACTITIONERS, ABIRI MUSTAPHA & CO, SITUS PARTNERS, DELE OJOBEDE & CO, DELE OJOGBEDE, THE OPTIMIST ATTORNEYS, TAYO OYETIBO LP, WALL & ACE, ASTER LAW, OLAOLUWA AKINREMI & CO, J.O ABIODUN

Internship at Aardschap Oluwadunsin Komolafe (Prisoners’ Rights Advocacy Initiative), Salome Ochmanek, Abril Fernandez, Larissa Aarzen, Luna Cabrera Suarez (VU masterclass International Law)
Website design, text & editing: Benjamin Earl, Kirsten Spruit & Bart van Zessen”

Special thanks Rotimi Oladokun, Olatubosun O. Osituga, Amos Ibrahim, Charlotte Langhorst, Azu Nwagbogu, Tobi Oshodi, Princess Ayoola, Nguveren Ahua, Neec Nonso, Paul Lompech, Bashir Adamu & Tunde Kalaro