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Quick justice delivery and burden of ACJ Act implementation

By Joseph Onyekwere, Godwin Dunia and Yetunde Ayobami Ojo   |   07 February 2017   |   4:17 am  

Vice President Yemi Osinbajo

Delay in justice delivery is one of the seemingly intractable problems plaguing Nigeria’s judicial system. It is a problem everyone admits exists but can’t find lasting solutions to it. Bothered by the development, stakeholders pushed for what they considered appropriate response, which resulted in the enactment of the Administration of Criminal Justice Acts (ACJ) Act, of 2015.

The objective of the Act is captured in section 1, which read thus: “The purpose of this Act is to ensure that the system of administration of criminal justice in Nigeria promotes efficient management of criminal justice institutions, speedy dispensation of justice, protection of the society from crime and protection of the rights and interests of the suspect, the defendant, and the victim”.

According to one of the promoters of the Act, when it was still in the drawing board, Professor Yemi Akinseye-George (SAN), ACJ Act is carefully divided into 48 parts with 495 sections.

He said: “It merges the two principal legislations, that is, the Criminal Procedure Act (CPA) and the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC). Thus, the ACJ Act, 2015 repealed the CPA and the CPC. Substantially, the provisions of the Act preserved the existing criminal procedure systems, but it introduces innovative provisions that could enhance the efficiency of the justice system.

“It is important to note that unlike the CPA and the CPC, the ACJ Act adopts a more acceptable trend used in the Evidence Act, 2011, where persons standing trial for criminal offences are not described as “accused persons”, but as “defendants”. The provisions of the Act apply to criminal trials for any offences established by an Act of the National Assembly and other offences punishable in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, however it does not apply to a Court Martial as stated in section 2(2) of the Act.”

In spite of its noble provisions, criminal trials are not just moving as fast as envisaged as a result of certain factors. They include the fact that most of the federating states are yet to adopt the law.

At the recent opening ceremony of Stakeholders’ summit on Administration of Justice in Lagos State, the Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo (SAN), had lamented the growing and alarming numbers
of inmates that are awaiting trial in prisons all over the States of the Federation as at January 23, 2017. This obviously is instructive of how the ACJ Act has not yet delivered as expected.

The Vice President, who was represented by the Attorney General and Minister of Justice of the Federation (AGF), Abubakar Malami (SAN), put the total figure at 47,229 inmates on awaiting trial out of the total prison population of 67,586 in the federation. The implication is that only 20,357 inmates are actually serving prison terms, meaning that double of that population are pre-trial inmates.

He said as at the end of 2015 based on the data released by the National Bureau of Statistics and Nigerian Prisons Service, Lagos State alone had 5,603 unsentenced detainees out of a total prison population of 6,522 which represented 85.91 per cent of its total prison population and 10.48 per cent of Nigeria’s total unsentenced prisoners.

He, however said that stakeholdes in the justice system should be held responsible for the delay in the administration of justice, insisting it is self-inflicted.

Osinbajo listed how each of the stakeholders contribute to the delay. He said while justices would sit late and for a short period, lawyers would deploy several means to slow down the process, asking for several adjournments. He also noted that the Police do shoddy investigation which does not help the pace of justice administration.

This indeed has raised question among stakeholders, if the ACJ Act alone can solve the challenges of delayed justice.

In his reaction, senior advocate of Nigeria, Dr. Paul Ananaba, hinges the reason for the increasing numbers of inmates on awaiting trial on ‘machinery and structure’.

“The solution has nothing to do with the laws, it is the machinery and the structure that are already in place that are responsible for this development,” he said.

He also said the law cannot move or change itself because it has no legs, it is the stakeholders that can bring the desired change in the judicial sector such that there will be an end to the growing numbers of inmates who are awaiting trial.

According to the SAN, those set of people include judges, lawyers, all the law enforcement agents as well as supporting workers.

He also lamented the bail conditions that are given to suspects today, which he described as a deliberate attempt of ‘denial of bails’.

He therefore called for an overhauling of the machinery of justice in order to arrest the ugly trend.

Again, an Enugu-based lawyer, Ifeanyi Okumah, said: “No particular institution can solely be blamed for the high number of awaiting trial cases in our prisons, despite the reforms introduced by the ACJ Act to ensure speedy dispensation of justice among others.

“The criminal justice institutions include the police, the judiciary and the prison and the blame can be said to be that of the stakeholders. The high rise in awaiting trial cases is a microscope of the state of our nation where absolutely nothing works. The tardiness in the nation’s justice system is still a clog in the wheel of justice.”

Okumah lamented that Nigeria practices the notion of ‘arrest before investigation’ instead of ‘investigation before arrest’ as obtained in most developed jurisdiction, which also make the case of awaiting trial worse.

For example, when ‘suspects’ are taken to the magistrate court for arraignment, he said, the magistrate has no jurisdiction to try the case and remands the accused with an order that the file be forwarded to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) for legal opinion and advice.

These, he noted, contribute to delay as the person is kept in prison, awaiting trial. “Therefore my answer is that the stakeholders are collectively guilty. The judiciary, the lawyers, and the other law enforcement agencies who are supposed to enforce the laws as well as stakeholders are all culprits,”he declared.

Another Lagos lawyer, Charles Lambo, lamented the negative effect of the bail conditions that are given to suspects, saying: “Most of them are not able to meet up and as such, they are taken back to the prisons”.

Another reason, he stated, is procedural delays and the unnecessary adjournment of cases and applications to frustrate justice by lawyers which are part of what contribute to the delay despite the enactment of the ACJ Act.

Lambo pointed out that the problem of the prosecution and defence are also responsible for Prison congestion, because the law requires a prosecutor to prove case beyond reasonable doubt. And apart from this, he said there are minor cases that are not suppose to attract punishment apart from criminal offences, saying deterrent and punishment should only be applicable to criminal cases.

Lagos lawyer, Festus Keyamo in proffering solution to the challenge, suggested that the judiciary should be automated. According to him, something should be done on the system of recording by judges.

He said up till now, judges still use the system of ‘long hand’ to take notes of court proceedings, arguing that things would improve if this is taken care of.

“When this is improved upon there will be massive reduction in cases in our various courts. And I think that is the solution to all the awaiting trial in persons,” he stated.

Mr. Ikechukwu Ikeji in his reaction said, reasons for awaiting trial inmates include corruption of investigating agencies, who deliberately delay prosecution with the hope of getting gratification to free the inmates. Others, he noted include arresting people without adequate facts, as some inmates are either too poor to afford legal representation or too poor to afford harsh bail conditions given to them by the courts. He also included ill-equipped and or ill-trained legal aid as well as the slow judicial process.

Also, Mr. Oluwole Kehinde identified lack of sufficient tools for speedy police investigation, resulting in unnecessary remand and awaiting trials.

“Unreasonable number of cases coming from minor crimes like environmental offences, especially in Lagos State where they even put people in Black Maria before they are charged to court. Lack of sufficient facilities in prisons, so much that even some inmates have to pay before they are taken to court on adjourned dates of their cases.

“Poor or inadequate facilities in the courts to speedily deal with the cases pending before them, for instance, court rooms, electricity, computer and electronic accessories. Lack of sufficient prosecutors and prosecution tools and facilities, including lawyers, policemen, witnesses, documentation, computers, vehicles,” he stated, adding that general increase in crime rate arising from political activities, unemployment, poverty and failure of internal security also account for the problem.



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