‘It’s wrong and patently so to parade suspect criminals publicly’
Prof Epiphany Azinge (SAN), and elected member representing Nigeria and Africa at the Commonwealth Arbitral Tribunal in London, told JOSEPH ONYEKWERE that more often than not, youths are those paraded, which is not too good for their psyche and can be traumatising.
Is it legal to parade suspected criminals publicly, even when investigation is still ongoing, as done by the Police?
In my opinion, there is no law, written or conventional (administrative), that enjoins the Police to parade suspected criminals publicly.
It is rather an obnoxious practice that dates back to the military era when armed robbery was on the increase and the Police was in a hurry to show-case their capacity, competence and preparedness to combat the menace.
This practice has since been accepted as a convention, which is part and parcel of our criminal justice system. But it is wrong and patently so. Our constitutional jurisprudence does not permit it.
Firstly, to parade suspected criminals is to subject them to inhuman and degrading treatment, contrary to Section 34 of the constitution.
Secondly, it runs counter to our notion of presumption of innocence of accused persons, which is also encapsulated in our constitution.
To parade a suspected criminal is to remove the toga of innocence from him and to convict him in the court of public opinion.
It is wrong, illegal and blatantly unconstitutional.
Does it not put undue pressure on the suspect to prove his/her innocence?
Not at all! It rather puts additional pressure on the prosecution to convict. Mark you, our law places burden of proof on the prosecution and they have to prove beyond reasonable doubt in criminal matters.
So, to achieve their conviction, often they resort to persecution, rather then prosecution.
Suspects are traumatised, badgered, inhumanly treated and subjected to ignoble behavioural conducts.
Even at that, some of these suspects are eventually discharged and acquitted for lack of evidence or want of diligent prosecution.
If legal, at what point can a suspect be paraded?
Since I have dismissed the parade of suspected criminals as illegal or unconstitutional, this question is automatically academic.
However, nothing precludes the investigators from having a parade of persons (not necessarily suspects) to enable a victim identify a suspect.
In cases of rape, kidnap, abduction, robbery, etc, such pattern of identification of suspect can be deployed to ensure that the right suspected is prosecuted.
If not, how can it be stopped?
An order of court is the only solution. Surprisingly, this practice has not been subjected to judicial scrutiny or determination whereby the court is invited to determine the legality or constitutionality of such a practice.
Perhaps using the principle of harmonious construction, it can be tied to the jurisprudence of right to fair hearing.
Secondly is that no paraded suspect has sued the Police for heavy damages when the case is over and the suspect is discharged and acquitted.
Does it help the case of the suspect or the Police?
It does not help either party. It presents our criminal justice system in bad light and confuses our adversary system with the inquisitorial or accusatorial system that operates in continental Europe.
It is a throwback of our dark days and must be banished from our justice system.
Do you think most of those paraded are actually suspects?
On the contrary, research has shown that a good number of those paraded are used by the Police to boost their image before the unsuspecting public. A good number of those paraded may not have been remotely connected with a crime in question.
Our Police are fond of blanket arrest and after parading them as suspects, then starts the investigation. This is condemnable.
Once it is categorically internalised that the chances of a suspect going free is high, then the Police will banish the practice of parading suspects.
Does this contribute to overcrowding of the prisons with awaiting trial inmates?
It goes without saying that where blanket arrests are made, suspects must be detained, pending further investigation. This contributes to congestion of Police cells or prisons, as the case may be.
But again, the law enjoins that suspects are tried speedily within the framework of right to fair hearing. Under this system, suspects (depending on offence) may be admitted to bail.
Again, the Administration of criminal Justice Act also encourages speedy trial of accused persons.
How does this affect/affecting the youth, who are mostly in this category?
Truly, more often than not, youths are those paraded. This is not too good for their psyche and can be traumatising. Some find it intolerable and the stigmatisation remains a badge of dishonour for them.
Given that youths can be reformed or rehabilitated, it is really injurious to subject them to the indignity of public parade, especially when it is not fully established that they are guilty of the offences in question.
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