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Lawyer faults petition against Abia Judge over release of convicts

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An Abia state based lawyer, Mr. Iheanyi Anyamele has faulted the petition by Umuenyere Alayi Autonomous Community in Bende local council in Abia State against Justice Benson Anya of the State High Court over the release of six natives of the community from prison.

In the petition dated March 12, 2021 and filed before the National Judicial Council (NJC), the community had faulted the order by the embattled judge to release the convicts ahead of the expiration of their respective one-year prison term.

Each of the convicts were sent to prison with hard labour on December 22, 2020 by His Worship, Mr. John Ukpai of Abia State Chief Magistrate Court sitting in Uzuakoli for alleged stealing and selling about 100 plots of community land under dispute at Alayi.

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The conviction of the six followed the report the community made in 2019 to the State Police Commissioner, who arraigned them before the court vide Suit No: MU/18C) 2019.

But Anyamele said the convicts were released on bail pending appeal or judicial review.

He asserted that it is in the interest of justice and the right of the convicts to be granted bail.

He also held the view that a judge has the right to release a prisoner on bail if there is the likelihood that the process before the Court would succeed.

The lawyer queried whether it was right and proper for a Magistrate Court or any Court at all to assume criminal jurisdiction over a civil matter like a land dispute.

According to him, a look at the judgment convicting the prisoners indicated that even the magistrate referred the matter as a land dispute between the parties.

He stressed that it is the duty of the court to rise in defence of the fundamental right of citizens where it is breached.

It is also the lawyer’ view that the Police acted ultra vires when they converted a civil land dispute to a criminal case thereby wrongly bringing the charge in the first place to the Magistrates court and by so doing making the Charge and entire trial to be illegal.

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