Highlight of Notable Innovations Introduced by the Gombe State Administration of Criminal Justice Law, 2020

Prepared by Hon. Justice Abdussalam Muhammad.


Being a paper presented at the Summit of the Young Lawyers’ Forum of Nigerian Bar Association, Gombe Branch held on Friday, 10th December, 2021, at Conference Hall Gombe International Hotel.


Introduction


Before the enactment of the Administration of Criminal Justice Law, 2020, Gombe State was administering criminal justice through the provisions of the Criminal Procedure Code. This however, changed with the coming into force of the Administration of Criminal Justice Law after it was assented to by the Executive Governor, Muhammadu Inuwa Yahya on 2nd October, 2021. The ACJ Law has come to strengthen criminal justice administration in Gombe State by addressing most of the challenges bedeviling the justice system especially in investigation and prosecution of criminal cases, and the long period of remand in Prison custody without trial. The Law has modernized the modus operandi on investigations, arraignment and prosecution of criminal cases. The ACJ Law has repealed the Criminal Procedure Code1.

The purpose of the ACJ Law, 2020 is to ensure that the system of criminal justice administration in Gombe state 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.

This paper, therefore, examines some provisions of the ACJ Law with a view to high light some of the of notable innovations introduced in the ACJ Law.

Application of the ACJL, 2020.

The Gombe State Administration of Criminal Justice Law, 2020 is divided into 52 parts with 500 sections. Thus, the ACJL Law, 2020 repealed the CPC Substantially, the provisions of the ACJL Law preserved the existing criminal procedure system. But it introduces innovative provisions that could enhance the efficiency of the justice system. It is important to note that unlike the CPC, the ACJ Law 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”.

Some notable innovations introduced in the ACJ Law

1.Territorial Jurisdiction of Magistrates courts.
The ACJ Law in Section 9 provides that in each Local Government Area there shall be and accordingly, there is hereby established a Magistrate Court and that No Magistrate shall exercise jurisdiction beyond the Local Government Area in which the Magistrate’s Court is situated except Chief Magistrate’s Courts of the first grade within Gombe Metropolis whose jurisdictions shall cover the whole State.

2. Jurisdiction to try rape cases:
Section 12 (3) of the Law provides that a Chief Magistrate’s Court of first Grade should try a rape case and same shall be prosecuted by a state counsel.

3. Appointment of Magistrate:
Another innovation made by the ACJL is the appointment of Magistrate. Section 11 of the ACJL provides that the Judicial Service Commission shall only appoint a qualified lawyer of 5 years post call at the Bar and above as the judge of the Magistrate.

4. Equitable distribution of first information reports (FIR) within the metropolis:
Prior to the coming into force of this law, preparing and filing of First Information Report was the sole discretion of the superior police officers particularly the DPO’s at their divisions and they file same before the magistrate of their choice. This however, changed with the coming into force of the Administration of Criminal Justice. Section 130 of the ACJL provides that the Chief Registrar shall ensure equitable distribution of the FIR among the Magistrates and Section 130 (7) provides that a Magistrate within Gombe metropolis shall have no jurisdiction to entertain any FIR that has not been formally assigned to it by the Chief Registrar. This is a commendable innovation that is aimed at restricting the tendencies of favoritism between the police and the magistrates particularly in cases of interest and the tendencies of over loading other courts with cases while other courts are under utilised.

5. Unlawful Arrests and Constitutional Rights of a suspect Unlawful arrest is one of the major problems of our criminal process. It is one of the reasons why police stations and prisons are overcrowded. Arrests are sometimes made on allegation that are purely civil in nature or on a frivolous ground.
The ACJ Law also made elaborate provision for the protection of the constitutional rights of an arrested person. For instance, Section 24 of the Law provides that a suspect shall be informed of the reason for the arrest. The Law places a duty on the police officer to notify the suspect of his right to remain silent or avoid answering any question or making, endorsing, or writing any statement until after consultation with a legal practitioner or any other person of his own choice; and his rights to free legal representation by the Legal Aid Council of Nigeria where applicable. The provision of the section has a proviso which mandates the authority having custody of the
suspect to notify the next of kin or relative of the suspect of the arrest at no cost to the suspect.
More so, the Law states that a suspect shall be brought to court within a reasonable time or released on bail whether conditionally or unconditionally. This provision will go a long to curbing unnecessary detention.
Another significant provision is that of humane treatment of the arrested person. This section reiterates the right of the arrested person to dignity of his person which conforms to Section 34 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended).

6. Abolition of Arrest in Lieu:
Section 25 of ACJ Law expressly prohibits the arrest of a person in place of a suspect. Thus, a Police Officer has no power to arrest a person who has not committed an offence in lieu of another.
It is common phenomenon among Police Officers in Nigeria to arrest relatives of a suspect in lieu of the suspect where it becomes difficult to arrest the suspect. At times, the Police Officer making an arrest will apprehend every person seen with the suspect or in the house of the suspect, particularly where the suspect is at large.

This provision of the ACJ Law prohibiting the arrest of a person in lieu of a suspect may, at the surface level, appear plausibly humane and a respect for the dignity of all citizens before the law. Yet in practical reality, it presents a very difficult roadblock for the Police to the effective investigation of criminal activities in Nigeria, given the tendency by many families to protect and screen members who are offenders in their folds.
By this provision, the house wife who knowingly ate of the husband’s loot cannot be arrested during investigation by the Police and search for her absconding husband. The wisdom for the effective investigating Police Officer is to invite such a wife to the station who must not neglect to aid in arresting her suspected husband. There were several instances where the police arrested relations or friends or close associate of a crime suspect to compel the suspect to give himself up even though that person was not linked in any way to the crime alleged against the suspect.

7. Prohibition of arresting persons on civil wrong or breach of contract:
Section 26 (2) of the ACJ Law provides that:
“a person shall not be arrested merely on a civil wrong or breach of contract.” This provision is very important particularly where there are several cases of persons using the criminal system on matters which are entirely civil in nature, cases of recovery of debts and breach of contracts. This provision reinforces the decisions of the courts that the law enforcement agencies are not debt recovery agents. With this provision, we hope, it will prevent malicious prosecution and prevent arrests of persons on civil matters.

8. Mandatory Inventory of Property (S. 28)
Another innovation of the ACJ Law is the compulsory recording of the inventory of property, which the ACJ Law presents. This arrangement makes it compulsory for a law implementation official to take inventory or properties recuperated from suspects. The inventory must be signed by the police officer and the suspect. The law further gives that where a suspect won’t sign the inventory, such shall not invalidate the inventory as copies will also be given to him or her, as well as to his legal practitioner or such other person as he may direct. One credible development deserving of note here under Section 28 (7), is that where the suspect isn’t charged on the ground that there is no adequate or sufficient reason to charge him, any property taken from the person in question will be returned to him, provided the property is neither connected to nor a proceed of an offence.

9. Arrest and Video Recording of Confessional Statement of an Arrested Suspect. Under Section 35 of the ACJ Law the police have been mandated to record every confessional statement given by a suspect on video or the statement should be endorsed by a legal practitioner, as opposed to the use of torture to compel suspects to confess to crimes which perhaps they did not commit.
The ACJ Law also makes provisions for mandatory record of personal data of an arrested person in section 33 (1). The Law further provides in Section 33 (2) that the process of recording arrest shall be concluded within a reasonable time, not exceeding forty-eight hours. Section 33(4) of the Law provides that where a suspect volunteer to make a confessional statement, the confessional statement shall be in writing or may be electronically recorded on a retrievable video compact disc or such other audiovisual means. However, an oral confession of an arrested suspect may also be admissible in evidence. Section 35 of the Law re-enacts the existing constitutional provision on recording of statement of the suspect in the presence of his legal practitioner or any person of his choice provided the legal practitioner or the other person mentioned shall not interfere while the suspect is making his statement.

10. Right to Bail
By virtue of Sections 48, 49, 50 & 177 of the ACJ Law, the Law attempts simplification of the right of an arrested person to bail. It permits an oral application in the trial of non-capital offences. Section 180 of the Law also made specific provision as to bail where a person is charged with a capital offence. Such a person can only be admitted to bail by a High Court Judge under exceptional circumstances. Such circumstance may include: (a) ill health of the applicant which shall be confirmed and certified by a qualified medical practitioner employed in a Government hospital; (b) extraordinary delay in the investigation, arraignment and prosecution for a period exceeding one year; or (c) any other circumstances that the Judge may, in the particular facts of the case, consider exceptional.

Section 48 provides that where a suspect has been taken into police custody without a warrant for an offence other than an offence punishable with death, the officer in charge of a police station shall inquire into the case and release the suspect arrested on bail subject to subsection (2) of this section, and where it will not be practicable to bring the suspect before a court having jurisdiction with respect to the offence alleged, within 24 hours
after the arrest.

11. Bail in rape and kidnapping cases:
Another interesting innovation in the Law is Section 181 (2) (a) and (b) which restricted the grant of bail to the defendants in rape and kidnapping cases until after the complainant or victim of the alleged offence has testified in the defendant’s trial for that offence in the court before which the defendant is to be or is being tried.

12. Women Sureties:
The present-day practice in Nigerian courts where women are usually denied the right to stand as sureties for the purpose of entering into recognizance for bail received the attention of this Law. Section 186 (3) provides that “a person shall not be denied, prevented or restricted from entering into a recognizance or standing as surety for any defendant or applicant on the ground only that the person is a woman”.

This provision is commendable as it is in line with the 1999 Constitution and the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) which has been ratified by Nigeria.

13. Establishment of a Police Criminal Records Registry: Section 34 of the Law makes provision for the establishment within the State Command of the Nigeria Police, a Criminal Records Registry of all arrest made by the police and shall maintain in both electronic and manual forms a record of all persons arrested, discharged, acquitted or convicted in the State. The Law further states that the State Police Command is to ensure that the decisions of the court in all criminal trials are transmitted to the Central Criminal Records Registry within thirty-days after delivery of judgment. The establishment of Police Criminal Records Registry will ensure that all arrests and judgments are well documented.

14. Quarterly Report of Arrest to the Attorney-General:
In a clear demonstration of show of control by the office of the Attorney General over the Police, Section 47 of the ACJ Law directs that: “The Commissioner of Police and the head of every agency authorised by law to make arrests within the state shall remit quarterly to the Attorney-General a record of all arrests made with or without warrant in relation to offence or arrest within the state.”

The above provision was followed by yet another legislative directive that: “The Attorney-General shall establish an electronic and manual database of all records of the arrest in the state.” See Section 47 (4) of ACJ Law.

15. Duty of the Police to Report All Cases of Arrest and Remit Files to the Nearest Magistrate:
In a bold breath, which places a Magistrate (no matter the grade) in superior position to the Divisional Police Officer (no matter the rank), Section 51 of the ACJ Law requires that:
An Officer in charge of a Police Station or an official in charge of any agency authorised to make arrest shall report to the nearest Magistrate the cases of all suspects arrested without warrant within the limits of their respective Stations or agency whether the suspects have been admitted to bail or not.
The ACJ Law directs that the Magistrate should forward the reports of all suspects arrested to the Criminal Justice Monitoring Committee (CJMC) which has the responsibility to analyse the reports and advise the Attorney General as to the trends of arrests. Likewise, Section 52 of the Law mandates the Chief Magistrate or any Magistrate designated by the Chief Judge for that purpose to conduct an inspection of Police Stations or other places of detention within his territorial jurisdiction other than the Custodial Centre.
During the visit, the Magistrate may call for, inspect the records of arrests, and may direct the arraignment of the suspects. Where bail is refused by the Police, the Magistrate may grant bail to any suspect where appropriate if the offence for which the suspect is held is within the jurisdiction of the Magistrate. Similarly, an Officer in charge of Police Station shall make available to the visiting Magistrate or designated Magistrate the full records of arrest and bail. He shall also make available the applications and decisions on bail made within the period. All these are required for the purpose of decongesting Police Cells.

16. Returns by Comptroller of Correctional Service:
ACJ Law has a great potential to substantially reduce the number of persons in custody while awaiting trial. Section 129 of the ACJ Law is one of the innovative provisions that requires the state Comptroller of correctional services to make returns every ninety days to the Chief Judge and the Attorney-General of all persons awaiting trial held in custody in the custodial centres in the state that have been held in custody for more than 90 days from the date of remand. Upon the receipt of such return, the recipient shall take the necessary steps to address the issues raised in the return in furtherance of the objectives of the Law.

17. Remand proceedings:
In an effort to reduce congestion in custodial centres and the incessant cases of jailbreaks in the country, Section 309-312 of the ACJ Law has put an end to the concept of holding charge which has been abused by the Police. A suspect arrested for a criminal offence must now be charged before a Court of competent jurisdiction or be granted bail pending the completion of investigation. The ACJ Law permits remand proceedings via an ex-parte application as contained in sections 309-312. Remand in situation whereby a suspect who is yet to be charged with an offence is ordered by a court, to be kept in custodial centre, pending his bail, trial or release. The arrest and remand must be only for ‘probable cause. See Section 310 (2) of the ACJ Law.

18. Time protocol for remand orders:
Section 312 of the Law stipulates that an order of remand shall not exceed a period of fourteen (14) days in the first instance which may be extended for a period not exceeding fourteen (14) days. Upon the expiration of the 14 days extension, the court may on application of the suspect grant bail in accordance with sections 177 to 205 of the Law. Also, at the expiration of the further order and where the suspect is still on remand, the court can suo moto issue a hearing notice to the Commissioner of Police and the Attorney-General or any other authority in whose custody the suspect is remanded to show cause why the suspect should not be unconditionally released. The suspect is further remanded for another period not exceeding 14 days. Where a good cause is shown the court may extend the remand for a final period not exceeding 14 days for the suspect to be arraigned at the appropriate court. However, where a good cause is not shown for the continued remand the court shall with or without an application discharge the suspect and he shall be released immediately from custody. No further remand application shall be entertained by any court after the above proceedings have been followed.
The above initiative will address a common situation where the Police gets a remand order from the Magistrate’s Court against a suspect it does not have any or sufficient evidence to prosecute. Thus, when a Magistrate grants a remand order, it is time bound. Consequently, a situation where suspects stay in detention for months without trial is now over.
It is humbly submitted that this is a welcome development. This is because if a suspect is taken to a Magistrate’s Court, the Magistrate can, even though he has no jurisdiction, consider the bail application and admit the suspect to bail. Therefore, if the ACJ Law is properly applied, a Court before which a suspect is brought cannot make an order of remand indefinitely, but for two weeks, and the suspect must be brought before the Court for a review. If after further review, there is no seriousness on the part of the Prosecution, the Magistrate will have the power to discharge the suspect.

19. Powers of the Attorney-General under the Administration of Criminal Justice Law
Section 122 (1) of the Law provides that the Attorney-General may prefer information in any court in respect of an offence created by a law of the State. The Attorney-General may authorise any other person to exercise any or all the powers conferred on him by the Law. The Attorney General also has power to issue legal advice or directives to the police or any other law enforcement agency in respect of an offence created by the law of a State House of Assembly. Section 125 of the Law empowers the Attorney General to discontinue criminal cases by entering a nolle prosequi and to withdraw from prosecution in trials and inquiries and the legal effects of any of such powers when exercised are also provided for in the proviso. Where the Attorney-General enters a nolle prosequi the suspect shall be discharged and released if he is in custody, where the suspect is on bail the recognizance shall be discharged. Subsection 4 of Section 125 of the Law specifically state that “where a discontinuance is entered in accordance with the provisions of this section, the discharge of the defendant shall not operate as a bar to any subsequent proceeding against him on the account of the same facts. However, it is worthy to state that the stage at which discontinuance is made is very significant because it goes to the root of the case. To buttress this point, the Law in Section 126 explicitly provides that where the withdrawal is made before the defendant is called upon to make his defence, he shall be discharged of the offence, but the court in its discretion may acquit the defendant, if it is satisfied based on the merits of the case that the order is a proper one to make in such
circumstances. The court shall endorse its reasons on the record. Where the defendant has made his defence, he shall be acquitted of the offence.

20. Issuance of legal advice
Another remarkable innovation of this ACJ Law is the provision of Section 394 which is in relation to the issuance of legal advice by the office of the Attorney-General within 14 days of receipt of the police case diary. The Attorney- General is given 14 days to issue and serve a legal advice indicating whether or not there is a prima facie case against a defendant. And where no prima facie case exists, the Attorney-General shall serve a copy of the legal advice on the police, court and the suspect and the suspect shall be released if he is in custody.

21. Speedy trial and stay of proceedings:
The ACJ Law, under Section 393 amplified the provisions of the Constitution to ensure speedy dispensation of justice and abolished stay of proceedings in criminal matters. The Law provides that:
“An application for stay of proceedings in respect of a criminal matter before the court shall not be entertained.”
This provision is far-reaching in its avowed intent of enhancing the expeditious determination of criminal trials.

22. Criminal Trials and Inquiries:
Section 105 of the ACJ Law again reinforces the right of a person to make a complaint against any person alleged to have committed or to be committing an offence. A Police Officer may go ahead to make a complaint even when the party aggrieved declines to make a complaint. This form of complaint need not be in writing unless it is required to be so by the law and where it is not in writing the Court or Registrar shall reduce it into writing. See Section 106 of the Law. The limitation period where no time is specifically stated for making any complaint and if made when not in an official capacity, shall be made within six years from the time when the complaint arose. See Section 111 of the Law. A criminal charge shall be filed and tried in the Division where the alleged offence was committed unless it can be shown that it is convenient to do otherwise for security reasons. See Sections 113-114 of the Law.
The Law empowers Chief Judge to transfer any case from one Court to another where it appears to him that such would promote the end of justice, or public peace. However, this power shall not be exercised where the Prosecution has called witnesses. Where the Chief Judge is to exercise this power in response to petition, the petition shall be investigated by an independent body of not more than three (3) reputable legal practitioners within one week of such petition and a report shall be made within two (2) weeks except otherwise specified. See Section 116 of the Law. Again, this demonstrates the need to immediate dispensation of justice by the Law.

23 Exclusive Right of Lawyers to Prosecute:
The Administration of Criminal Justice Law specifically under Section 124 limited the power to prosecute criminal cases to the following persons: (a) the Attorney-General or a Law officer in his Ministry;
(b) a legal practitioner authorised by the Attorney-General; (c) a legal practitioner authorised to prosecute by this Law or any other Law of the State House of Assembly.
Sub-Section (2) of Section 124 of the ACJ Law categorically restricts the power to prosecute criminal cases in all chief magistrate’s courts within Gombe metropolis to Law officers in the ministry of Justice only or legal practitioners authorised by the Attorney-General. The Law therefore, makes the prosecution of cases the exclusive preserve of lawyers. In effect, police personnel who are not lawyers have lost the right to prosecute particularly within Gombe metropolis.
It is also worth noting that Section 128 (1) (a) also stipulates that the signing of the charge sheet should be done by only persons mentioned in Section 124 above.

24. Mode of instituting criminal proceedings:
Essentially the provision of this Law in respect of modes of instituting criminal proceedings is akin to what was obtainable under the CPC. Section 127 of the Law reorganized the existing procedure. The specific mode to be adopted depends on the court where the defendant is arraigned and the prosecuting agency involved, thus:
(a) in a magistrate court, criminal proceeding could be commenced by First Information Report or by a complaint;
(b) in the High Court, by a charge filed by or on behalf of the Attorney-General;
(c) by a charge filed in the court after the defendant has been summarily committed for perjury by a court under the
provisions of this law;
(d) by a charge filed in court by any other prosecuting agency; (e) by a charge filed by a private prosecutor subject to the provision of this Law.
(f) Upon the receipt of complaint by the Attorney-General.

25. Plea Bargain:
Section 286 of ACJ Law gives the prosecutor the power to consider and accept a plea bargain. The Prosecutor may receive and consider a plea bargain from the defendant or on his behalf. The prosecutor may equally offer a plea bargain to the defendant. The prosecution may enter into plea bargain with the defendant, with the consent of the victim or his representative during or after the presentation of the evidence of the prosecution, but before the presentation of the evidence of the defence. The Criminal Justice System was hitherto unwilling to sanction plea bargain. Plea bargain is viewed with suspicion as a practice susceptible to abuse. There is the question whether the rule of law and the ends of justice are served when persons accused of grave and serious offences are in the end convicted for lesser offences and given sentences that are ridiculously light. More so, arguments have been put forward in the past on whether the rights of suspects to fair hearing is being abridged, particularly the constitutionally guaranteed presumption of innocence. Nevertheless this reluctance which inheres in the system, it is seen to be in the public interest for a conviction to be expedited. Firstly, it saves cost for the court and secondly there could be recovery of proceeds of crime. Undoubtedly, it is in order to ensure that public interest, which has been described as an unruly horse, is not compromised that the provisions on plea bargain in the ACJ Law set out strict guidelines to follow. In determining whether it is in the public interest to enter into a plea bargain, the prosecution must weigh all relevant factors, including:
i. the defendant’s willingness to cooperate in the investigation or prosecution of others;
ii. the defendant’s history with respect to criminal activity; iii. the defendant’s remorse or contrition and his willingness to assume responsibility for his conduct;
iv. the desirability of prompt and certain disposition of the case;
v. the likelihood of obtaining a conviction at trial, the probable effect on witnesses;
vi. the probable sentence or other consequences if the defendant is convicted;
vii. the need to avoid delay in the disposition of other pending cases; and
viii. the expense of trial and appeal.
The guide lines set out above as wide reaching as it is, may not be able to address all the social, public policy, public interest, as well as the abuse of legal process issues associated with plea bargaining, but by all odds, it is a necessary evil.

26. Form and Contents of a Charge Sheet:
Section 210 of the ACJ Law provides that a charge may be as in the forms set out in the Second Schedule of the Law with necessary modifications as may be necessary in the circumstances of each case. Sections 213-214 of the Law provides that the contents of a charge shall contain the following particulars:
a. The law, the section of the law, and the punishment section of the law against which the offence is said to be committed; b. Particulars of the time and place of the alleged offence; c. The defendant;
d. The victim, if any, or thing against whom or in respect of which the offence was committed; and
e. Such other particulars as are reasonably sufficient to give the defendant notice of the offence with which he is charged. Furthermore, the Law provides that the prosecution while filing a charge shall include prove of evidence consisting of the following: (a) the proof of evidence, consisting of:
(i) the list of witnesses,
(ii) the list of exhibits to be tendered,
(iii) summary of statements of the witnesses,
(iv) copies of statement of the defendant,
(v) any other document, report, or material that the prosecution intends to use in support of its case at the trial where available,
(vi) particulars of bail or any recognizance, bond or cash deposit, if defendant is on bail where available.
(vii) particulars of place of custody, where the defendant is in custody,
(viii) particulars of any plea bargain arranged with the defendant if any;
(ix) particulars of any previous interlocutory proceedings, including remand proceedings, in respect of the charge, and
(x) any other relevant document as may be directed by the court.
22
(2) The prosecution may, at any time before judgment, file and serve notice of additional evidence. This is also commendable as it put to rest unnecessary objections to filing of additional evidence after commencement of hearing.

27. Trial of Corporation:
Trial of Corporation is another remarkable feature of the ACJ Law. Section 479 makes provisions for the trial of a corporation with its representative appearing on its behalf. “Corporation” in the Law means a corporate body, incorporated in Nigeria or elsewhere. Section 479 of the Law provides that a corporation can take its plea to a criminal charge in writing through its representative. However, when the corporation appears or fails to enter any plea, the court shall order a plea of not guilty to be entered and the trial shall proceed accordingly.
Section 485 of the Law clearly provides for application of the provisions of the Law to a corporation as they apply to an adult. The same section also expressly provides that a corporation may be charged jointly and tried with an individual for any offence.

28. Non-Custodial sentences
The Administration of Criminal Justice Law made some attempts to address the problem of unnecessary use of imprisonment as a disposal method by introducing some alternatives to imprisonment. These include the
introduction of (a) community service, (b) suspended sentence, (c) parole and probation.
(a) Community Service:
Notwithstanding the provision of any law creating an offence, where the Court sees reason, the Court may order that the sentence it imposed on the convict be, with or without conditions, suspended, in which case, the convict shall not be required to serve the sentence in accordance with the conditions of the suspension. The Court may, with or without conditions, sentence the convict to perform specified service in his/her community or such community or place as the Court may direct. A convict shall not be sentenced to community service or suspended sentence for an offence involving the use of arms, offensive weapons, sexual offences or for an offence which the punishment exceeds imprisonment for a term of three years. See Section 469 of the ACJL.
(a) Suspended Sentence
Where a Defendant is charged before a Court and the charge is proved, the Court may decide not to convict the Defendant having regard to the character, antecedents, age, health, or mental condition of the Defendant;
the trivial nature of the offence, or the extenuating circumstances under which the offence was committed. In the circumstance, the court may dismiss the charge or discharge the Defendant conditionally on his entering into a recognizance to be of good behaviour and to appear at any time within three years as may be specified in the order. The Court may, in addition, make order for the Defendant to pay damages for injury or compensation to the victim of the crime and such costs of the proceedings as the court thinks reasonable. See Section 463 of the Law.
(b) Parole and probation.
Where the Comptroller-of Correctional Service is of the opinion that a Prisoner convicted and serving sentence in Prison is of good behaviour, and has served at least one-third of the Prison term of at least 15 years or life imprisonment, he may make a recommendation to the Committee on Prerogative of Mercy for his consideration. A Prisoner who is so released under this Section shall undergo a rehabilitation programme in a government facility or any other appropriate facility to enable him to be properly reintegrated to the society. This is the body of the Law that encourages restorative justice. See Section 477of the ACJ Law.

29. Administration of Criminal Justice Monitoring Committee
Section 491 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Law established the Administration of Criminal Justice Monitoring Committee which is saddled with the supreme responsibility of ensuring effective and efficient application of this Law by the relevant agencies. The Committee shall consist of eight members with representatives drawn from the Ministry of Justice, Police, Corrections, Legal Aid, Nigeria Bar Association, civil society organization and National Human Rights Commission with the Judge of the High Court who shall be the Chairman and the DPP as the Secretary. This Committee shall ensure that criminal matters are speedily dealt with; congestion of criminal cases in Courts is drastically reduced; congestion in custodial centres is reduced to the barest minimum; persons awaiting trial are, as far as possible, not detained in custodial centres; the relationship between the organs charged with the responsibility for all aspects of the administration of justice is cordial and there exists maximum co-operation amongst the organs in the administration of justice in the State; submit quarterly report to the Chief Judge to keep him abreast of developments towards improved criminal justice delivery and for necessary actions to be taken; and carry out such other activities as are necessary for the effective and efficient administration of criminal justice. See Section 492 of the Law.

Conclusion

The Administration of Criminal Justice Law 2020 has come to strengthen criminal justice administration in Gombe State by addressing most of the challenges bedeviling the justice system especially in investigation and prosecution of criminal cases, and the long period of remand in prison custody without trial. The Law has modernized the modus operandi on investigations, arraignment and prosecution of criminal cases. There’s no doubt that if the provisions of Administration of Criminal Justice Law 2020 are fully implemented the reforms intended to bring into the criminal justice system would be fully achieved and sanity would be restored fully in the system. The Law could not have come at a better time and the Law is a timely intervention that is really and truly needed to curb the excesses in the criminal justice system. One of the standard improvements brought about generally by the ACJ Law is that serious efforts were made to strengthen the rights of the defendant and reduce delays in the criminal process. Though most of these rights had existed before now, the ACJ Law 2020 has added emphasis to them and has also ironed out some areas that had been long overdue for change. With the passage of this Law, the Criminal Procedure Code stand repealed.

Challenges and way forward

However, the challenge in Nigeria is always not with the law but with the implementation of the law. Without a well implementation, our hope for an efficient criminal justice system will not be achieved. For these innovations to be achievable, the Police, the Law Officers in the Ministry of Justice and the Judiciary should constantly be informed about them and be ready to enforce compliance otherwise the Law will just be another dead-letter law which is known more for its violation than enforcement. When the innovations in the Administration of Criminal Justice Law are well implemented, it is our belief that it will reduce delays, modernize criminal justice administration and protect the rights of citizens with the law.
Thank you for listening.

Footnotes

1 Section500 of the ACJ Law


More photos from the NBA-YLF Gombe Branch summit


Share:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.