Nigeria’s criminal justice system in need of overhaul, lawyers say
For an effective criminal justice system in the country, some eminent constitutional lawyers on Monday canvassed the revision and harmonisation of the various criminal laws.
The lawyers, who spoke with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Lagos, said a review of the criminal laws would give fillip to effective prosecution of cases and also add value to the nation’s administration of criminal justice system.
Mr Michael Dugeri, a human rights campaigner, urged that attention should be paid to issues bordering on speedy disposal of cases in a bid to decongest the nation’s prisons.
“There must be close attention to issues of decongesting the prisons which I think is fast becoming a national embarrassment.
“This should begin with a thorough reformation of the manner of administration of criminal justice in our courts.
“There are provisions under the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) 2015 on speedy criminal trials; however, the impact of the provisions of that law is yet to be felt as our prisons are still overflowing with inmates.
“More work needs to be done in ensuring compliance with laws that encourage speedy trials; there should also be partnership with the various state governments on initiatives that are necessary to bring about these desired reforms,” he told NAN.
Also, a crusader for indigent prisoners, Mr Anthony Makolo, harped on an effective application of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act to promote speedy trials and rid the prisons of overcrowding filled with thousands of awaiting trials and underage.
He urged judicial officers to shun frivolous applications aimed at delaying trial of criminal cases and strictly comply with the provisions of the Act for speedy disposal of cases.
According to Makolo, judges must be inclined to giving meaning to criminal laws by granting favourable bail conditions to accused particularly where the law allows them to do so.
In the same vein, Mr Justine Eliagwu, called for a comprehensive review of the criminal laws.
According to him, the doctrine of plea bargain should be discarded from the criminal justice system to make accused persons to face trial.
“There is need to promote and enhance the laws as they relate to the criminal justice system in the country.
“For instance, the issue of plea bargain, in my view, should be discarded. From a lay man’s view point, it means to plead guilty to a lesser charge and one pertinent question here is why?
“This is simply because the sentence of a full trial is far more severe than the lesser one he opted for. This again, in my view, does not serve the purpose of justice.
“It is my submission that the doctrine be discarded as it encourages corruption; it is an escapist machinery to dodge the sledge hammer of the law put in place to punish such an offender.
“Hence, Section 179 of the Criminal Procedure Act lends its support,” he said.
On his part, another lawyer and social critic, Mr Aondonenge Akaa, also wants a total overhauling of the criminal justice system.
Akaa said: “A total overhaul of the criminal justice system is required for the anti-corruption drive of the present administration to succeed.“The doctrine of presumption of innocence should be made inapplicable in all corruption cases, especially high profile cases involving public funds.
“With the congestion of our regular courts and the strict constitutional rule of trial within a reasonable time coupled with the presumption of innocence principle, the ACJA is merely fanciful.’’
He said constitutional amendment would also ensure a more proactive legal framework in the country.
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