The Nigerian Bar Association,NBA, has urged Kebbi State government to domesticate the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015, in order to enhance Justice delivery.
The call was made in Birnin-Kebbi, Kebbi State at the State Legislative Advocacy and Sensitization Workshop on Promotion and Domestication of Administration of Criminal Justice Act, ACJA, 2015 organize by the Nigerian Bar Association with support from the John D. And Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation held on the 15th of October, 2019, the NBA Assistant National Publicity Secretary, Habeeb Lawal disclosed.
While addressing participants, the Project Coordinator of the NBA- MacArthur Project, Victor Abasiakan-Ekim Esq gave an overview of the extant criminal justice system in the State, and unveiled the objective of the workshop which according to him, is to sensitize stakeholders in the criminal justice system in Kebbi State and the importance of having an administration of criminal justice law of the State that conforms to modern reality.
Earlier on, in his capacity as the representative of the NBA President, Paul Usoro, SAN, Mr. Ekim welcomed members of the bar, stakeholders, speakers and invited guests and expressed optimism that the workshop will achieve the desired objective.
Mr. Victor then went ahead to give the project overview. He reiterated that, the ACJA is geared towards ensuring that the system of administration of criminal justice in Nigeria promotes efficient management of all criminal justice institutions, speedy dispensation of justice, and protection of the rights and interests of the suspects and the victim of crime.
However, he noted that, ACJA will fall short of its potential if it only remains a federal law. In view of the need for uniformity, clarity, and better administration of justice throughout the country, it is essential for States to adopt this Law.
In his goodwill message, Acting Chief Judge of Kebbi State, Hon. Justice Muhammad Suleiman Ambursa, thanked organizers of the event and welcomed participants. Speaking further, the Acting CJ stated that the workshop couldn’t have come at a better time, assuring that he will muster the needed support and assistance towards ensuring that the Administration of Criminal Justice Act is domesticated in the State. In this direction, His Lordship hinted that under his supervision, a draft copy of the proposed Administration of Criminal Justice Law of
Kebbi State has already been prepared and forwarded to the State Government for necessary action.
Prof. Alphonsus Alubo, SAN, who was the Keynote Speaker gave an ”Overview of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015” with specific emphasis on some innovative provisions of the Act, such as:
- Section 6 of the Act which mandates an arresting officer to promptly inform the person being arrested of their right to remain silent or avoid answering any question until after consultation with a legal practitioner or any other person of their choice.
- Section 7 of the Act outlaws the practice of arresting any person or persons in lieu of the suspect only by reason of their consanguinity, affinity or association with the suspect.
- Section 8 of the Act which makes provision for the humane treatment of any person arrested, bearing in mind the person’s right to dignity.
- Section 8(2) which expressly provides that no person should be arrested in respect of civil matters or breaches.
- Section 15 provides that when a person is arrested with or without a warrant and taken to the station or office of the arresting officer, particulars of the person arrested shall be recorded within reasonable time or not later than 48 hours.
- Section 16 of the Act which establishes a Central Criminal Records Registry. Every police command is also mandated to establish one from which they shall transmit records to the central criminal records registry.
- Section 29 of the Act which requires the Inspector-General of Police and the heads of every agency authorized to make arrest, to remit quarterly report of all records of arrest to the Attorney-General of the Federation. Under the same section, the Attorney-General is mandated to establish an electronic and manual database of arrested persons at the federal and state levels.
- Part 10 of the Act which consolidates, restates, and recognizes the power and preeminence of the Attorney-General in the criminal justice administration, with supervisory powers over other organs of the criminal justice system.
- Section 11 of the Act which requires that every 90 days, the Comptroller – General of Prisons shall make return to the Chief Judges of the Federal High Court, the FCT; and the Attorney – General of the Federation, of all persons awaiting trial held in custody within the FCT and any other part of the Federation for a period exceeding 180 days.
- Sections 158 – 188 of the Act which makes provisions on bail. Of particular note is section 167(3) which provides to the effect that a person shall not be denied, restricted or prevented from entering into a recognizance or surety for any defendant or applicant on the ground only that she is a woman.
- Section 106 of the ACJA which eliminates the practice and use of lay prosecutors in prosecuting cases before lower courts.
- Section 270 of the Act which gives statutory backing to plea bargain.
- Section 310 of the Act which provides for sentencing and sentence hearing. Under the section, the court may pass sentence on the defendant upon conviction or adjourn to another date to consider and determine the appropriate sentence to pass given the circumstances of the case.
- Section 373 provides which limits to 14 days, the period within which the Attorney – General shall issue legal advice as to whether or not there is a prima facie case against a defendant for which he can be prosecuted.
- Section 376 which eliminated the element of surprise in trials before magistrate courts. The section places an onus on the prosecution to file a charge accompanied by the list of witnesses, list of exhibits, statements of witnesses and of the defendant, any report, or document that the prosecution intends to rely on at the trial of the case.
Prof. Alubo concluded his speech by pointing out some salient sections of the Act which, in his opinion, are flawed and need to be expunged or amended. According to the learned silk, the landmark innovations of the ACJA notwithstanding, certain provisions thereof need to be amended so as to bring the Act in touch with societal realities. Some of the sections identified in this regard are:
- Section 293 of the Act which empowers a magistrate to remand a suspect in respect of an offence which the magistrate is not competent to try. Although holding charge is not expressly mentioned, it is the belief of the erudite professor of law that the section introduces the practice of holding charge through the backdoor and is therefore of dubious utility.
- Also, section 270(2) of the ACJA provides to the effect that resort could be made to plea bargain if the evidence of the prosecution is insufficient to prove the offence charged beyond reasonable doubt. It is the opinion of the learned silk that this provision should be jettisoned as it turns long established legal principles on their heads.
- It was also the opinion of the speaker that section 148 of the Act which states that a search warrant may be issued and executed at any time and on any day, including a Sunday and a public holiday, is capable of being used by law enforcement agencies to infringe on citizens’ rights to privacy at ungodly hours. According to him, the provisions of section 111 of the CPA are more apposite and should be substituted with section 148 of ACJA.
- The keynote speaker also believes that section 492(3) is vague, and gives too much latitude to a judge in the event of a lacuna in the Act. According to him, the provision that the court may apply any procedure that will meet the justice of the case is a carte blanche that is susceptible to abuse as the judge may rely on same to adopt despotic and oppressive procedures.
- Other sections recommended for amendment by the learned SAN are sections 402, 404, and 415 of the Act which deal with death sentence for a pregnant woman, and or death through lethal injection.
In his contribution, the Acting Chief Judge of the State. Hon. Justice Muhammad Suleiman Ambursa made a comparative analysis of the CPC and the ACJA. According to His Lordship, the procedural bottlenecks in sections 140 – 142 of the CPC are unnecessary and as such, the relevant provisions of the ACJA are more detailed and desirable.
He went further to say that the intricacies and innovations contained in the ACJA require that the use of lay prosecutors should be abolished. In this regard, His Lordship assured participants that the State Ministry of Justice has sufficient manpower to prosecute case in all tiers of courts in the state. His lordship particularly lauded the provision of section 373 of the ACJA whereby the Attorney – General is mandated to issue legal advice following investigation within 14 days. He further added that before the draft copy of the State’s ACJL is passed into law, effort will be made to shorten the time limit for criminal trials before a magistrate’s court to less than 180 days.
According, to him, if election petition tribunals can dispose of election petition within 180 days, it logically follows that 180 days is more than enough time for magistrates to dispose of cases pending before their courts.
On his part, Ebenezer Chidozie Oguelina, Esq, a private legal practitioner in Kebbi State, thanked organizers of the workshop for finding him worthy to be a discussant at the workshop. Mr. Oguelina who is also a former Chairman of the State Branch of the NBA, assured that the private bar in the State will collaborate with relevant stakeholders to ensure that the ACJA is domesticated in Kebbi State, albeit with necessary modifications.