Critique of Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) 2015

HandcuffTHE Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) 2015 is, to my mind, an excellent piece of legislation which has been long overdue in coming. Its enactment has proved that law is truly dynamic as the Act has taken care of most of the ills and lacunae that have for long plagued the criminal justice system in Nigeria.

Having said this I am of the humble view that unless certain issues are quickly addressed, serious challenges may be encountered in the implementation of the Act. If this happens the noble intention of the Act in addressing the ills that have for long plagued the administration of criminal justice in Nigeria will be automatically defeated.

By virtue of Section 493 of the ACJA, the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC) and Criminal Procedure Act (CPA) stand repealed with the coming into force of the ACJA. Prior to their abrogation the CPC and CPA respectively applied in the northern and southern states of the country.

They equally applied uniformly in all courts (whether Federal or State) in their respective areas.

Following the abrogation of the CPC and CPA, the Act will now apply in all the states of the Federation. It is however, only applicable in Federal Courts across Nigeria and the FCT.

This is by virtue of the fact that the territory itself is exclusively controlled or administered by the Federal government.

According to Professor Yemi Akinseye George (SAN) “The Act merged the provisions of the two principal legislations (CPA and CPC) into one principal Federal Act which is intended to apply uniformly in all Federal Courts across the entire Federation”. (This was contained in his article titled Innovative Provisions of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015; The Nation June 2, 2015 page 40).

I know as a fact that the Federal Government does not control inferior Courts such as the Area Courts/Upper Area Courts and Magistrate Courts.

It is only in the FCT that Magistrates’ Courts are owned by the Federal government. This is by virtue of the fact that the courts are set up by the magistrates’ Courts’ Laws of the various states of the Federation. Area Courts are also a creation of the Area Courts’ Laws of the various Northern states. With respect to the High Court of the Various States, they were specifically created by the 1999 constitution of Nigeria.

Federal Courts, on the other hand include all the superior courts of record i.e the Federal High Courts, the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court.

Since the CPA and CPC which applied in the states courts earlier mentioned have been automatically abrogated by the ACJA, which law will now apply in those courts.

This is one question that worries me in view of the fact that the ACJA applies only in Federal Court.

The purpose of the Act is stated in Section 1 to include efficient management of criminal justice institutions, speedly dispensation of justice, protection of the society from crime as well as the protection of the rights and interest of the suspect, the defendant and victim.

In order to ensure that the rights of victims are truly protected, the Act provides in Section 319 that the Court may, within the proceedings or while passing judgment order the convict to pay compensation to any person injured by the offence. This is irrespective of any other punishment or fine that may be imposed on the said convict. This compensation may be recovered by civil suit if the Court deems it fit to so order.

The Court may also order a convict to pay a sum of money to defray expensives incurred in the prosecution of the case.

Where a person is shown to be a bonafide purchaser for value without notice of any defect in the title in any property in respect of which an offence has bee committed, the court may order the convict to compensate such person where he has been compelled to forfeit the property.

The foregoing provisions of Section 319 are quite laudable as the victim of a crime is equally entitled to justice.

However as laudable as this provision is, one important question remains unaddressed: what happens in a situation where the convict is unable to pay the compensation imposed on him? Will he be kept in prison for failing to pay the said compensation? If this happens one of the main aims of the ACJA which is to decongest the prisons and ensure that people are not kept in prison longer than necessary would have been automatically defeated.

The need to address this question becomes more imperative when one considers the fact that it costs a lot of money to prosecute cases in Nigeria. By the time an accused person defends himself up to the supreme court he would have spent a lot of money and may have nothing left to pay compensation.

Section 7 of the Act is quite commendable as it specifically prohibits the police and other law enforcement agencies from making unlawful and arbitrary arrests.

The Section clearly provides that “a person shall not be arrested in place of a suspect”.

This has put a stop to the obnoxious practice whereby the police and other law enforcement agencies arbitrarily arrested relations or friends of a wanted person in order to force the latter to come out of hiding.

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