Legal experts canvass special court for criminal cases
To speed up the trial of criminal cases in the country, legal experts have canvassed the urgent need for the judiciary to designate court for criminal cases and also assign judges specifically for the trial of the cases
They revealed that judges often shy away from trial of criminal cases owing to their perception that it may inhibit their career progression. They stressed the need for Civil Societies to mount pressure on the judiciary to smoothen out the designation of criminal court.
The legal practitioners, who spoke at the Cleen Foundation and the African Network for Environment and Economic Justice (ANEEJ) bi-monthly meeting on the Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015, maintained that ordinarily criminal cases should be given more priority because time is of the essence in the dispensation of justice, but unfortunately, the cases take longer than expected.
The legal adviser of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) Tosin Olufon lamented that the lull in the trial of criminal cases has made a mess of the ACJA act saying having specific judge for criminal cases would reduce work loan of judges and speed up the trial of the cases.
The secretary of the Monitoring Committee of the ACJA FCT Barrister Suleiman Kuku Dawodu also highlighted the factors militating against implementation of the ACJA act to include lack of discipline of Defence lawyer, lack of designation of court for criminal cases, Lack of Prosecutors, Lack of judges, lack of data and the lack of the political to reform the judiciary.
He further lamented the spate of corruption going on at the lower court unchecked, wherein defence counsel bribe their way through cases to either make the judge postpone sitting or defer judgement.
Other challenges to the implementation of the ACJA act as highlighted by the Cleen Foundation data officer Chukwuma Ejerinwa include lack of witnesses, lack of good interpreter, abuse of remand warrant, lack of electronic recording of the confessional statement, keeping central registry and database of criminal record thereby creating a lacuna in the enforcement of the suspended sentence.
To address the challenges they recommended the need for coordination among the judiciary and anti-graft agencies to ensure harmonization and increase impact, the continuous training of anti-graft agencies on ACJA 2015, the need for accelerated hearing for effective dispensation of justice, the need for litigants to accept plea bargaining for effective and accelerated cases in courts.
Other recommendations include the need to always pay witness stipends in a way to encourage them, adequate enforcement of section 16 of the ACJA and keeping of central criminal registry and database of criminal records.
A Program Analyst with ANEEJ Aitopa Henry Paul mentioned that the bottlenecks and bureaucracy in government have hampered the implementation of the ACJA act but maintained that they are gradually making progress as the feedback from the actors have been very positive, but it is hoped that there is more speed to how the observations are being addressed.
He said, “There is need for the capacity of the antigraft and security agencies, the Police, EFCC, CSO on the ACJA for instance on the interrogation of the suspect by the police, how the correctional service address the prison inmates. CSOs are working with them to bring about change.”
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