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THE WAY FORWARD WITH CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM REFORM IN NIGERIA
It has been canvassed time and time again that a state of emergency must be declared on the reform of criminal justice in the country. The time has come to take seriously the call before it is too late. The historical abandonment of criminal justice system by successive governments has been shown to be intolerable any longer by the recent spate of protests across the country. The Executive must lead the process of urgent reforms of the criminal justice system that will demonstrate convincingly to the populace, the seriousness of the government to tackle the existing decadence of our criminal justice system.
2. For the sake of clarity, the chain of criminal justice commences from the point of arrest (including investigation), prosecution including adjudication and sentencing. The simple process as it appears, has become a perennial nightmare in the nation`s history. There has not been a time that the government has been in charge of this process. The failure has been attributed to lack of adequate; funding, infrastructure, personnel and training.
3. There is therefore the urgent need for the Executive to set up an urgent special intervention fund for the necessary reforms in the administration of criminal justice in the country.
4. The deployment of the special intervention fund should be towards strengthening the institutions responsible for the delivery of the criminal justice in the country; Nigeria Police Force, Law Enforcement Agencies, Department of Public Prosecution, the Judiciary, Nigeria Correctional Service, Legal Aid Council and the Administration of Criminal Justice Monitoring Committee (ACJMC). The specific urgent interventions required in each of these institutions includes but not exhaustive of the following: –
i- Nigeria Police Force: It is pleasing to note that the NPF triggered the citizens reaction to the decadence in our criminal justice system. a-The follow up to the disbandment of SARS, is the de-clogging of the detention facilities of SARS across the country, by transferring the detainees to more suitable correctional facilities. The current detention facility in Guzape, Asokoro is inhuman and not fit for abattoir that it was originally built for. ACJMC has commenced discussion with the CJ FCT and CP FCT to kickstart the process of assigning Chief Magistrates/Judges to issue appropriate remand warrants where necessary, and discharging others where no credible evidence exists. The same exercise must be carried out across the country.
b- The building of modern detention facilities for detainees across all police stations including present SARS facility in Guzape. The upgrade of all police stations cells is a major intervention that this government could bequeath as a legacy. The present situation where detainees are required to sleep on bare floor, no meals provided, no medical provision must cease immediately. This situation cannot be tolerated under the leadership of President Muhammadu Buhari. ACJMC, National Human Rights Commission, Legal Aid Council and Civil Society organisations must be enabled to perform the required oversight functions. Any Police station that cannot provide basic human rights compliant detention facilities must be closed down and joined with a standardised detention facility.
c- The provision of basic equipment to Police stations across the country including generator sets, internet connectivity, computers (for keeping of records and communication), interview recording machine (audio), radio communication devices, diesel/petrol for patrol vehicles/generator.
d- Support the establishment of Central Criminal Record Registry as prescribed by the ACJA and Police Act as a matter of urgency. The absence of this data is tantamount to deliberate frustration of the functionality of the administration of criminal justice in the country.
e- The psychological evaluation of all the rank and file of Police Officers by an independent government medical institution monitored by civil society organisations.
ii. Department of Public Prosecution, Federal and States: It is incontrovertible that the management of prosecution in the country is ladened with lop-sidedness deriving from undue delay, often attributed to inadequate prosecutors, incompetence, lack of witnesses due to non-payment of witness allowances, most importantly, lack of motivation and corruption. The way forward on reforming prosecution are: –
a– ACJMC has consistently advocated for de-clogging of DPPs Federal caseload, to review files not prosecutable (based on length of delay, lack of witnesses or where prospect of conviction is slim). The time has come for this to be operationalised with immediate effect. The HAGF should direct accordingly. The same is suggested for the DPPs at State level. Thousands of cases could potentially be discharged, rescuing the clogged- up dockets of Court and correctional centres.
b- Professionalisation of prosecution as a career through the passage of the Prosecution of Offences Bill 2020. The Bill seeks to ensure coordination, grant semi-autonomy for the prosecution service and ensuring that only those who have chosen prosecution as a career, end up at the top hierarchy of the profession. It will stimulate motivation and curb corruption and meddling in prosecution. The Bill is presently before the Attorney General of the Federation for approval as an executive Bill. An Inspectorate division is also introduced in the Bill.
c- Disposal of identified terrorism cases through the adoption of virtual hearing: This proposal was endorsed by all criminal justice stakeholders and has been presented to the Attorney General of the Federation for approval. This intervention is supported by UNODC and is at cost to the Federal Government. This will de-clog the caseloads of the DPP by one-third-half possibly.
iii- Judiciary; Federal and State level: The institutionalised delay in criminal proceedings could potentially become the next target of mass protest if immediate remedial actions are not taken. The following are recommended as a matter of urgency: –
a- De– clogging of Court dockets through special intervention by Chief Judge of FCT and States; The Chief Justice of the Federation should direct the review of criminal cases that have dragged on before the Courts longer than 5 years upward. Indeed, a practice direction or circular for the regular holding of such de-clogging exercise by Heads of Court should be in place.
b- Establishment of Criminal Divisions at Federal and State level: The absence of specialised Courts to try criminal cases has been a major reason for the congestion of cases and correctional facilities. The system works perfectly well in Lagos State and many countries across the globe.
c- Establishment of National Special Crimes Court to try most serious offences (Capital offences, corruption and terrorism cases) at Federal level. The Bill has been submitted to the Senate Committee on Constitutional Amendment of the National Assembly for necessary legislative process.
d- Provision of recording machines and stenographers for Judges to record proceedings; this would obviate the necessity of Judges long hands to write proceedings. It stifles quick dispensation of Justice.
e– Strict Enforcement of Speedy Trial provisions in ACJA by Judges; there are provisions in the ACJA which properly enforced would reverse the current trajectory of delay in the dispensation of justice. These includes; numbered days for assignment of cases, trials, number of adjournments to be granted to parties including prosecution, Day-to-Day trial, award of costs, and refusal of stay of proceedings.
iv- Correctional Service: the institutionalised deplorable state of correctional centres could potentially trigger another spate of citizens uproar if not managed NOW!! The following are recommended: –
a- Building of Borstal institutions for children caught in conflict with the law. Very inadequate presently.
b- Upgrading the current facilities and focusing on welfare of the inmates exponentially.
c- Set up the Committee on the implementation of Non-Custodial sentences as prescribed by the Correctional Services Act with immediate effect.
v- Strengthen the oversight institutions including Legal Aid Council, National Human Rights Commission and Administration of Criminal Justice Monitoring Committee to enable them discharge their statutory duties effectively. ACJMC has no single operational vehicle till date.
This is no doubt an exhaustive list but the implementation of some or all the above recommendations will put the present government in a good stead and engender much needed confidence in the criminal justice by the citizens. The Administration of Criminal Justice Monitoring Committee is committed to ensuring the delivery of these interventions with relevant criminal justice stakeholders.
Executive Secretary, Administration of Criminal Justice Monitoring Committee, Federal.
17 October, 2020