Administration of Criminal Justice Act and burden of implementation
It was another moment of felicitation by the civil society leaders and the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) when the Administration of Criminal Justice bill was passed into law and subsequently obtained presidential assent.
Former President Goodluck Jonathan assented to the then bill on May 14, 2015.
The ACJ bill was the outcome of efforts put together by a national working group on the reform of Criminal Justice Administration set up by the then Attorney General of the Federation, Chief Bayo Ojo SAN in 2006.
The group reviewed the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC) applicable in the states in northern Nigeria, and the Criminal Procedure Act (CPA) applicable in the states in southern Nigeria, and produced a harmonized national bill, to modernize the criminal justice system in the country.
Also in 2012, the immediate past Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mohammed Bello Adoke, CFR, SAN, appointed a Panel on Implementation of Justice Reform (PIJR), which worked with the National Assembly to fine tune the bill.
The ACJ proposals merged the provisions of the two principal legislations, CPA and CPC into one principal federal Act which is intended to apply uniformly in all federal courts across the entire Federation and at the same time also preserves the existing criminal procedures.
On its innovative provisions, the bill sets time limit for carrying out investigations, arraignment, and prosecutions of criminal suspects. It also mandates the police to record every confessional statement given by a suspect to the police in video or the statement should be endorsed by a legal practitioner, as a way of reducing the incidents of use of force or torture to compel suspects to confess to crimes that they perhaps did not commit.
The bill further mandates the police to maintain a central criminal record. This will help in management of crime in the country. Police commissioners at the federal and state levels will be required under the bill to submit to the Attorneys-General of the states or federation as the case may be, quarterly reports of persons arrested, released on bail or refused bail, the bail conditions, as well as those charged to court for prosecution.
Another notable innovation in the ACJ Act, is the provision for alternative sentences other than prison custody, such as community service, parole, and suspended sentences, as a way of reducing prison congestion.
So far, some states, such as Lagos, Ekiti and Anambra have already passed the ACJ law and it has subsequently shown evidences of improvements in the criminal administration.
Celebrating the Act with civil society and the whole nation, the Human Rights Agenda Network (HRAN) said the passage of the Bill into law marks another milestone in the fight to cleanse the criminal justice system as it will drastically address many challenges in the administration of criminal justice at the Federal level and in the FCT.
According to a statement endorsed by the cordinator of the group, Melissa Omene, the ACJ Act will ensure the speedy dispensation of justice as well as the protection of society from crime.
“The ACJ Act also has great potential to substantially reduce the number of persons in custody while awaiting trial as one of the many innovative provisions of the Act requires the Comptroller General of Prisons to provide quarterly reports to the Chief Judge and the Attorney General of the Federation on all persons awaiting trial that have been held in custody for more than 180 days.
“The Chief Judge and the Attorney General are then required to take such steps as are necessary to address the issues raised in the report in furtherance of the objectives of the ACJ Act.
“Now that we have the ACJ Act, HRAN calls on the new administration and civil society to take steps to ensure the immediate effective implementation of the Act”, Omene stated.
HRAN also congratulated Prof Yemi Akinseye George SAN; HRAN Steering Committee Member and former Attorney General of Ekiti State, Olawale Fapohunda; the NBA President, Mr Augustine Alegeh SAN; HRAN Chair, Mr Chino Obiagwu and all HRAN members who have been deeply committed to the passing of the Bill both at the House of Representatives and the Senate.
“We also call on the lawmakers to pass all other justice sector bills pending before them, including the Equal Opportunities Bill, Prison Act (Amendment) Bill, Police Act (Amendment) Bill, Legal Practitioners Act (Amendment) Bill, Institute of Chartered Mediators and Conciliator Bill, Torture Prevention Bill, among others”, Omene appealed.
Also speaking on the implementation of the bill, a Lagos based senior advocate of Nigeria, Olu Daramola, described the ACJ Act as a positive development as it intend to apply uniformly to all courts in the federation as well as the protection of the rights and interests of the defendant and the victim.
To him, the ACJ bill will remove all forms of abuses and malaise prevalent in our society in form of arrest, trial, torture, unlawful detention and so on. He also emphasized on enforcement as the most important aspect of any law, because to him, the law cannot enforce itself. He said it is the people that will enforce it and that if a law, no matter how good it is, if it is not properly enforced, the essence will be defeated.
“It is a right step to make our laws to be in tandem with current development in our society. But, we should know that, there have been good laws in Nigeria, the issue is always enforcement. Until we begin to work on the operators and rectify areas of failure in enforcement, we may continue to have the same results”, he said.
The Administration of Criminal Justice Act is to promote speedy dispensation of justice, protect the society from crime, deliberate shift from punishment as the main goal of the criminal justice to restorative justice, which pay attention to the needs of the society, the victims, vulnerable persons and human diginity.
Another features of the ACJ include numbers of provisions to improve and regulate police powers of arrest. For instance, the case of unlawful arrests, which by section 10 (1) of the CPA, confers on the police the power to arrest without a warrant, and subject to incessant abuses by the police, the ACJ bill has deleted this provision.
On humane treatment of an arrested person and prohibition of arrest on civil cases, the bill reiterated the human right constitutional provision of the right to dignity of person contained in section 34 of the constitution. Section 8 (1) of the bill provides that: a suspect shall (a) be accorded humane treatment, (b) not be subjected to any form of torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.
ACJ Act also make provisions for mandatory record of personal data of an arrested person to include the alleged offence(s), dates, circumstances of the arrest, and other details. This is contained in section 15 of the bill. The bill also make provision for the establishment of a police Central Criminal Registry, that would have the responsibility to ensure that all arrests and judgments are well documented.
The bill also include: Electronic recording of confessional statement provided by section 15 (4), Recording of statement of suspect which is provided by section 17 of the ACJ. All these are part of the improvement on both the CPA and CPC to bring the law in consonance with present day reality of our society.
By virtue of section 167 (3) of the bill, the issue of women sureties has been resolved. As it indicates that: “no person shall be restricted from entering into any recognizance or standing as surety for any defendant or applicant on the ground that the person is a woman”.
It stipulated the guidelines to prevent abuses in plea bargain in section 270 of the bill, wherein the prosecutor has the power to consider and accept a plea bargain from a person charged with any offence where the prosecutor is of the view that the acceptance of such plea bargain is in the interest of justice, the public interest, public policy and the need to prevent abuse of legal process.
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