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ACJMC/ JUVENILE WELFARE CENTER (JWC) INTERACTIVE SESSION
STAKEHOLDERS WORKSHOP ON THE IMPLEMENTATION OF GENDER EQUALITY AND SOCIAL INCLUSION IN THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM
DATE: WEDNESSDAY 31ST AUGUST, 2022
VENUE: ACJMC SECRETARIAT, JUDICIAL SERVICE COMMITTEE, FCT HIGH COURT COMPLEX, GUDU FCT.
The session commenced at 10:30am with the National Anthem
Following this was the introduction of members and invitation to the high table
The Executive Secretary of the ACJMC, Mr. Sulayman Dawodu, welcomed all participants to the workshop, members of the high table and particularly recognized the representative of the FCT, Human Rights Commission and other distinguished guests. He noted that the aim of the workshop was to deal with unprioritized issues that are germane to our criminal justice system, raise the required awareness on the significance of the neglected area of gender equality and social inclusion of vulnerable persons in the criminal justice system suggesting that they be included in the system, and set up feasible realistic measures to see to the improvement of the vulnerable groups in the system and that their protection is significantly improved with the need to raise the bar and step-up standards in terms of lack of dedicated or specialized youth court, basic infrastructure, inappropriate adult scheme and the diversionary mechanism for children advocacies.
In addition, Mr. Sulayman Dawodu, highlighted that the category of persons considered to be vulnerable as follows:
- Children in conflict with the law with no Juvenile Homes or Centres to accommodate their needs
- Victims of Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV)
- Persons living with disability
- Illiterate persons who seemingly cannot afford to understand proceedings in courts and investigations.
He noted that these categories of persons have unique peculiarities that should be taken into consideration and stated that steps have been taken in the past in order to ensure that these vulnerable persons are protected however, when compared to international standards, there is a huge gap to be filled and all stakeholders must put hands on deck in order to ensure that this gap does not remain. He also shared some of the plans of the ACJMC to actualize this vision as thus:
- Institutionalizing a viable, effective and efficient interpreter scheme
- Establishment of Juvenile facilities across the FCT
- Raising awareness on the importance of gender equality and social inclusion of vulnerable persons in the criminal justice system
- Partnering with other criminal justice stakeholders and developing a synergy amongst same.
Mr. Sulayman mentioned that the ACJMC has an expansive thought in relation to developing the criminal system, the institutionalization of an interpretive scheme for the literate to ensure their proper representation and fair justice especially at the investigation level. He says that the Committee is happy and honoured to be anchoring such an innovative mechanism within the criminal justice system together with its partners and which fits its mandate reminding everyone to prioritize the special victims group.
He further added that the civil societies (PRAWA, NULAI), the Ministry of Women Affairs, Governing body of the FCT, SGBV- Ministry of Justice. and other international partners are working with the Committee to ensure the enhancement and polishing of the criminal justice system. He also extended gratitude to the Attorney General of the Federation/ Minister of Justice, Perm Sec/ Solicitor General of the Federation for their support through the process in enhancing the criminal justice system in Nigeria.
- GOODWILL MESSAGES:
Nigeria Police Force: The representative of the NPF from the FCT Command, DSP Esther Zakari, welcomed all participants to the workshop. She further stated some of the challenges faced by the Police particularly in SGBV cases; delayed medical report and lack of enough medical facilities meant for SGBV cases. She also mentioned that the Police Hospital had been of great assistance in effecting rapid medical reports and that the Ministry of Women Affairs assist in locating hospitals around Asokoro, Wuse, and the need for assistance on equipment to work with the Gender Unit especially for women and children to specially attend to the issues.
National Human Rights Commission: The NHRC represented by the Director Legal, Mrs. Okoh stated that the concept of criminal justice cannot be discussed without a recourse to the subject of human right. She added that Human rights and criminal justice are interwoven and that the laws enacted are ensured to always have a touch of human rights. Mrs. Okoh emphasized that the Commission has been on its toes to ensure that unlawful arrest and detention is curtailed, there is legal representation for vulnerable persons in courts among others. She concluded by expressing the Commission’s willingness to key into decisions that would improve the situation and effecting a proper criminal justice system.
SGBV- Federal Ministry of Justice: Mrs. Gbola Awokpetu mentioned that Gender equality and gender inclusion shows that both women and men have the right to express themselves. She added that the ACJA 2015 has been gender sensitive, and that sexual and gender-based violence is at the fore-front of the human rights. Mrs. Gbola concluded by thanking the organisers and sees the session as one to reflect on the criminal justice system in Nigeria
Ministry of Women Affairs: Mrs. K.C Umeh highlighted the fact that, the session was to ensure synergy and collaboration with a view to teaming up to ensure equality and social inclusion in the criminal justice system, identifying issues of today gender, cultural and social bias among others, as factors that have contributed to the lack of equal access to justice. She added that the Ministry is focused on creating an environment which provides the requisite protection for women, children and the socially disadvantaged.
She commended the ACJMC for coming up with policies and interventions that have enhanced the criminal justice system especially with regards to the welfare and protection of vulnerable persons. She concluded by stating that, in taking a further step in the implementation of these policies, the ACJMC could;
- Collaborate with non-state actors such as schools, sociocultural groups, religious entities, amongst others, to raise more awareness.
- Facilitate capacity building training of key stakeholders, especially persons and institutions that engage directly with the highlighted group of vulnerable persons. This is in order to equip them in ensuring that, these policies are implemented in an effective and efficient manner.
- The need for the domestication of the Child Rights Act 2003 yet in some states as this vulnerable class needs proper care.
- The issue of foster institutions and Juvenile homes which the Attorney General inaugurated 2 years ago in Abeokuta which however has adults also detained there. She noted that reforms are ongoing in states on the need for more rehabilitation centres. Mrs. Umeh added that the step of the ACJMC is applauding and that the ACJMC- PDSS is a forward step to ensure a functional administration of the criminal system and wished participants a fruitful deliberation.
PRAWA: The Deputy Director, PRAWA, Mrs. Ogechi Ogbu, expressed her delight in being present at the workshop. She stated that raising the issue of gender equality and social inclusion is very important because, persons who approach the criminal justice system do not have the same strength, social status, literacy among others. Mrs. Ogechi added that the session calls for the devising of mechanisms that would allow the utilization of already existing legal framework, for the protection of vulnerable persons hence, balancing chapter II and Chapter IV of the 1999 Constitution needed on the side of both the victim and the defendant and utilize provisions that protects this class.
Social Development Secretariat, FCT: Mr. Ahmad mentioned that the SD Secretariat seeks to ensure a better life for the vulnerable and hopeful that the organizers will do justice to the issues.
NAPTIP represented by Mr. Chidiebere Ugochukwu, extended gratitude to the ACJMC Secretary and MacArthur Foundation stating that this was a needed platform in ensuring synergy, collaboration among stakeholders in terms of guaranteeing gender equality, inclusion, speedy trial of cases involving women and children as well as the decongestion of detention centres. He commended the ACJMC for organizing the workshop and further stated that it would facilitate a platform for synergy amongst stakeholders, in order to fashion out effective mechanisms that would provide vulnerable persons with equality and social inclusion in the criminal justice system.
Presentation 1: Issues of Social Inclusion within the Criminal Justice System by Mr. Sulayman Dawodu (ACJMC)
Mr. Sulayman mentioned that the cornerstone of our criminal justice system ought to prioritize the safety of women and children in the society. He noted that complaints have been brought forward on the functionality of the centres, challenges on the side of the prosecution, disposition of SGBV cases to mention but a few. He highlighted the following points:
- Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV) victims: SGBV is a human right violation and a criminality that poses a threat to the safety of women (particularly) in the society. Major focus is being made on how victims can access justice, protection of the victims from further threat and prevention of the further occurrence of SGBV. These may be achieved through:
- Capacity building programs that ensure the maintenance of high professional standard in handling SGBV cases.
- Speedy access to medical facilities particularly the forensics, swift access to medical reports in order to ensure speedy dispensation of SGBV cases
- Prioritization of SGBV cases in courts as it is being practiced in Lagos and Edo states through establishing the prosecution department of the SGBV, designation of special courts, witness attendance in court, and seek support from international donors, monitoring committee budget etc.
- Children in conflict with the law: Child offenders are at a disadvantage by virtue of their age which also puts them under the vulnerable persons’ group. Major focus is being made on how to protect child offenders and ensure that they are not embodied into the mainstream criminal justice system, in terms of restorative justice to curtail the risk. and that the input of the social welfare, police and Ministry of Social Development are required. He says that his may be achieved through:
- Identifying children who are at a high risk of committing an offence (primary prevention)
- Ensuring that children already in conflict with the law, are accorded their special rights especially with the investigating law enforcement agency. This is a secondary preventive measure that entails minimal detention of child offenders and child-friendly investigative process.
- Promoting the use of diversionary mechanisms for the punishment of child offenders. This is a tertiary preventive measure that encourages the judiciary to maximize the use of restorative justice through non-custodial sentencing (community service) and other diversionary programs that foster the rehabilitation and reformation of children in conflict with the law.
- Organizing international programs for children
- Professionalism, training and retraining, provisions of modern gadgets, vehicles, female cells and conveniences etc.
- Projects on building of JWC centres and offices across FCT Divisions (1 room) will be looked into and included in the 2023 budget of the Federation and also to implement, the issues of hospital bills.
- Persons living with disability: Major focus is being made on how to protect persons living with disability from the disadvantages that come with such disability, which can deprive them of access to criminal justice. This can be achieved through:
- Ensuring physical access to justice facilities such as the courts.
- Collaborating with key stakeholders to ensure the adequate implementation of the already existing legal framework for the protection of persons living with disability.
- Illiterates: Major focus is being made on how to protect persons who are disadvantaged because they can neither read nor write, or they do not understand English which limits their access to criminal justice. This can be achieved through:
- Establishing a viable interpreter scheme which would make interpreters available at Police Stations and Court.
Presentation 2: Review of the Framework for the Disposal of Sexual and Gender-Based Violence Cases in Criminal Proceedings by Mrs. Yewande Gbola-Awopetu (Fed. Min. of Justice)
The Federal Ministry of Justice main aim is to provide protection for all Nigerians and ensure access to justice. The first time that a provision was made for a coordinated SGBV prevention mechanism was in 2020, when there was a high increase in SGBV cases during the lockdown. The SGBV department of the Ministry has a referral agreement with the O/C Legal FCT Police Command, for referral of SGBV cases; so far the department has had about 30 referrals out of which 22 are undergoing prosecution in courts.
- Interference by families of perpetrators; In an attempt to make settlement, families of the perpetrators of SGBV would keep appealing and pressurizing the victim and their families, by offering financial compensation. This has led several of the victims to withdraw their case before prosecution or abandon their case by refusing to appear as witnesses in court.
- Fear of stigmatization and Intimidation: Several victims of SGBV do not report the incident immediately due to fear of stigmatization. And even when they report and the case is prosecuted in court, they abscond from giving evidence.
- Delay in the production of vital evidence: Investigating agencies especially the police would often transfer SGBV cases for prosecution without vital evidence such as medical/forensic results. This is due the delay in the production of the reports by the medical/forensic laboratories.
- Lack of a forensic laboratory in the FCT: There is no forensic facility that has been established in the FCT to specifically carryout medical examination in SGBV cases. This has resulted in the use of inadequate evidence which may not substantially establish the victim’s case.
- Destruction of vital evidence by victims of SGBV: Several victims do not report cases immediately; they would after a period of time. This has jeopardized many SGBV cases because traces of bodily fluids which serve as vital evidence, may not be found during medical examination.
The following recommendations were made in her presentation:
- That there is urgent need to establish a forensic facility that is specifically designed to carry out examination on SGBV cases.
- That there is need to establish a legal framework which would facilitate the speedy dispensation of SGBV cases.
- That there is need for the establishment of family courts that are specifically designed to handle SGBV cases. This would serve as an infrastructural backup for the legal framework.
- That there is the need to raising awareness/capacity building training on SGBV and particularly providing enlightenment on the right procedure to adopt in reporting, investigation and prosecution.
- That there is need to employ mechanisms that would discourage SGBV victims from consenting to settlement; this can be achieved through sanctioning of persons that interfere, having statutory provisions for compensation of SGBV victims and counselling of victims especially before trial, in order aid their psychosocial wellbeing.
Globally, age is a major factor in criminal justice especially, in determining criminal responsibility. Nigeria has several laws that provide for the protection of children in conflict with the law however, the two (2) major ones are; Children and Young Persons Act and the Child Rights Act.
- Children and Young Persons Act:
In its preamble, the Act is to provide for the welfare, care, protection, and rehabilitation of children and young persons. This shows that the major aim of the Act is to provide a system of criminal proceeding that is in the best interest of a child offender. Some of the notable provisions of the Act include:
- Establishment of a juvenile court to be constituted by a Magistrate either sitting alone or with any other person appointed by the Chief Judge of a State. The court is required to conduct its trial proceedings in a different room other than the open court, or on a different date or time.
- Trial is done in camera thus, only direct parties and their legal representatives are allowed to be present during proceedings.
- The court is empowered to make an order prohibiting any press release on cases involving a child, which could reveal the child’s identity.
- The child may be put in remand homes or approved institutions instead of a prison facility.
- Inadequate legal framework; for instance, the definition of a child is not clear in the Act
- Overutilization of pretrial detention; section 3(c) of the Act permits the Police to deny the release of a child offender if there is reason to believe that it would defeat the end of justice.
- Criminalization of activities such as hawking which is mostly done by children and young persons.
Child Rights Act, 2003
The Act has become a major law that generally provides for the protection of the rights and interest of children. Section 149 of the Act also established and empowered the family court to have jurisdiction over cases involving children. Section 162 of the Act provides for the admission of the unsworn evidence of a child, and also to be given probative value.
- Not all States have adopted the Child Rights Act; and some of the states that have adopted the Act, have made fundamental modifications which negates the whole essence of enactment.
- Inadequate capacity building especially for Police Officers on the interview of children rather than interrogation.
- Overutilization of pretrial detention and not utilizing restorative justice mechanisms.
Presentation 4: Prospects and Challenges involving Children in Conflict with the Law in Criminal Proceedings – K.C Umeh (Fed. Min. of Women Affairs)
Criminal proceedings involving children in conflict with the law, is primarily aimed at reformation, rehabilitation and integration; this is because the mental, intellectual, emotional, physical and psychological capacity of children is not the same with that of adults.
- There is a need to inquire into the spirit behind legislations meant to protect children in conflict with the law; this would enable the enforcer have an understanding of the intention of these laws.
- There is need to focus more on restorative justice and explore mechanisms that would facilitate the rehabilitation and reformation of children in conflict with the law. This would positively impact their reintegration into the society.
- There is need to employ a primary preventive measure that would help identify children who are at a high risk of committing an offence especially the ones whose parents/guardians bring to the Police or some unapproved rehabilitation centers, in order to be detained. There should be approved institutions that are designated and equipped with trained personnel, whose major focus would be to rehabilitate and reform such children.
- Wrap-up, Resolutions and Next Step
The vote of thanks was delivered by Mr. Joshua Dada and the closing remark by Mr. Sulayman Dawodu
The session ended at 4pm.