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Anambra courts differ over application to stay proceedings on criminal matter

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A Chief Magistrate’s Court sitting in Awka, Anambra State, presided by Mike Anyadiegwu, has disagreed with a High Court ruling by Justice Chukwudi Okaa ordering the lower court to stay proceedings on a criminal matter pending the hearing and determination of appeal lodged by the applicant, Ben Ifeatu, at the High Court.

The Chief Magistrate’s Court had dismissed the application brought before it to stay proceeding on the criminal matter based on the position of the High Court for lack of merit.

The applicant, Ifeatu, who is standing trial over a suspected criminal case of impersonation at the Chief Magistrate Court II, Awka, in a case with charge number MAW/14c/ 2019, had, through his counsel, C. N Eziamaka of the G.U Muoneke Chambers, Awka, brought an order of the State High Court under Justice Okaa, in a suit number A/4CA/2020, and dated January 18, 2020, wherein the High Court ordered the Magistrate Court to stay proceedings on the matter pending the hearing and determination of appeal lodged by the applicant at the High Court against an order of the Magistrate Court in its ruling dated 29th June, 2020; wherein the court rejected ‘no case submission’ application of the defendant, and ordered him to face his trial.

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But when the High Court order came before the Chief Magistrate’s Court, Anyadiegwu declared that no court in Nigeria, including the Supreme Court, has the power to stay proceedings on a criminal matter, especially when the intention is to stall the trial.

The presiding magistrate opposed the application on the ground that:

“The new position of the law today is that an application for stay of proceedings in respect of criminal matters before a court shall not be entertained. (Section 306 of the Administrative Criminal Justice Law, 2015.)

‘’The above position was made by the apex court in a landmark decision in the case of Olisa Metuh vs Federal Republic of Nigeria in a suit SC/1457/2016.

“The Supreme Court upheld the provision of Section 306 of the ACJL, 2015, as well as Section 40 of the Economic and Financial Crime Commission (Establishment) Act.”

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“The apex court held that no court in this country has the power, including the Supreme Court itself, to stay proceedings in a criminal matter.”

He averred that the appellate court could review the conviction, if at the end of the trial, the defendant is convicted, adding that a grant of stay would encourage defendants whose no case submission were over-ruled, to delay trial.

Anyadiegwu further said: “The beauty of refusing stay of proceeding over an interlocutory appeal is that, if it is allowed, it will automatically put an end to the prosecution of criminal activities in the Magistrate’s Court, because, any application refused by the Magistrate Court will move to Appeal Court up to the Supreme Court, and, by the time the appeal is disposed of by the apex court, the Magistrate Court might have lost jurisdiction to continue with the case, and a Trial De Nove will be ordered, which technically, may put an end to the prosecution, because, the witnesses may no longer be available. Therefore, this application is hereby dismissed.”

The matter will be heard at the High Court presided by Justice Okaa on April 14, this year.

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