CURE-Nigeria has continued its advocacy for justice reforms and respect for human rights across the country. Here is one of such events on the 6th March, 2018 in Asaba, Delta State.
On The Role of the Rule Of Law And Human Rights In Reforming the Criminal Justice System in Delta
State Organized By Citizens United For The Rehabilitation Of The Errants (Cure) – Nigeria And Bonum Seeds Foundation In Collaboration With High Court Of Justice, Delta State At Orchid Hotel, DBS Road, GRA, Asaba, Delta State.
The conference on the Criminal Justice Reform with the theme: The Role of the Rule of Law and Human Rights in Reforming the Criminal Justice System in Delta State attracted stakeholders from the State Apex Court, the State Ministry of Justice, Government Departments and Agencies ,the State Ministry for Women Affairs and Social Development, the State House of Assembly, Delta State Police Command, Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), the State Prison Command, NGOs, Civil Societies from across the country and the Press.
The event was declared open by Hon. Justice Marshal Umukoro, the Chief Justice of Delta State. In attendance were also the Attorney-General and Commissioner of Justice, Mr. Peter A. Mrakpor Esq, FICMC, who also gave a goodwill message. The welcome address and setting the tone was delivered by Mr. Sylvester Uhaa, Executive Director Citizens United for Rehabilitation of Errants (CURE).
Hon. Justice Ebiowei Tobi presented the day’s first lecture titled: Overcoming long / unnecessary court adjournments – My thoughts. According to him, the substance of this presentation is aimed at tackling the delay in the administration of justice. The purpose is not to blame people or institutions but to know where things have gone wrong and make necessary adjustments for a better administration of justice in Delta State. He listed the principal players in the criminal justice system as:
- The Courts via i) The lazy judicial officer ii) Congested cause lists iii) Inexperienced, untrained, unmotivated and unproductive court support staff
- The Counsel via i) Prosecution Counsel orState Counsel ii) improperly organized Ministry of Justice iii) Unmotivated State Counsel iv) Defence Counsel.
- Uncooperative Witness
- Government and its institutions
Addressing the these issues further, he added that the matter which should bother any judicial officerand the wider society is that the “Law exists to do
justice as between parties and decisions are based on the evidence and the Law”. He then boldly claimed that the duty of the Court in criminal cases
is not to convict accused persons at all cost.
Hon. Justice Tobi identified the way forward as a change of attitude and the provision of a conducive atmosphere in terms of infrastructure and the bursting of the morals of all staff related to the administration of justice system. He made further recommendations to include:
* Professionalism of all players in the criminal justice system
* Investigating Police officer as a carrier
* Increasing the criminal jurisdiction of magistrate
* Provision of adequate and conducive atmosphere for productivity
* Proactive application of the laws and rules governing criminal procedure.
In the second paper presented by Mr. Edore Lawson Umuze, Esq. on the “Alternative to Incarceration: a Panacea for Prison Congestion”- he highlighted the origin of alternative sanctions/sentence stating their introduction in the 1970s by the United States and England, two countries which were already confronted with an ever – growing prison population.
He added that the reality in Nigeria and Delta State in particular was that it is well documented that prisons in Nigeria are congested and cited the Federal Prison at Okere, Warri which was built with the capacity to accommodate 307 inmates but as at 25th February 2018 had a total of 1527 inmates. He said a lot could be gained by reducing the remand population before offering benefits to
- Reduction in monetary expenses
- Reduction of staff workload and stress
- Management of the prisons/improvedprison regime
- Reduction in prison overcrowding rate
- Improved sanitary and living condition in prisons, and
- Reduction of lack of discipline,disturbances and aggression in prison.
The paper recommended the following as means to decongest the prisons:
- At the stage of delivering judgment and conviction, the Judges and Magistrates should commit convicted persons to community services and where the accused is not a Nigeria, he/she should be deported to his or her home country to serve his/her prison terms in accordance with part 41, Section 437 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Law 2017.
- Plea bargaining.
iii. Consider Part 45 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015 which introduced the parole system in the Administration of Criminal Justice. Among other sections of the Act that was cited.
The paper concluded that there is a need to exhaust all possible alternatives to incarceration as panacea that can help reduce the prison congestion and that imprisonment is only used as a last resort, utilizing it for only cases that are best /most appropriate sanction that can be applied. Pastor Chuks Ray Afujue – former Deputy Controller General, NPS, in his paper: The Role of Alternative Dispute Resolution in the Administration of Criminal Justice in Delta State: expanding the Frontiers of the Law Enforcement and Courts with Restorative Justice Approach: stated that the use of detention and less consideration being given to alternative measures such as Negotiations. Mediation, Conciliation or Collectively, all the Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) methods to litigation has resulted in the over-crowding of awaiting trial persons in our prisons. Emphasis was that the development of ADR method as another window in the sphere of dispute resolution would reveal the following:
- That the process of litigation has become more time consuming, expensive and unduly cumbersome because of its considerable rise in the number of cases in our courts; b. That commercial men and women would prefer a situation where their differences are settled in a friendly, congenial and business like atmosphere.
- That commercial men and women would prefer a situation where the matter in dispute is resolved by persons who are experienced and knowledgeable in the particular subject matter of the dispute and that those and more are lacking in a court.
- That some disputes are sensitive and of confidential nature and so disputants would wish to settle them privately rather than in the large glare of public proceedings in a court of law. However, the paper admitted that certain cases may not qualify for ADR for the following reasons:
* The nature of the case in dispute-serious offences that may lead to the course of justice being seriously interfered with,
* ADR should be used as a last resort in criminal proceedings, with due regard for the investigation of the alleged offense and for the protection of the society and victim,
* ADR should be used where it is lawful, reasonable and necessary.
* Litigation may be necessary to prevent flight, interference with evidence or the recurrence of crimes.
The fourth and last paper: The Impact of Harsh Bail Conditions and Sentencing in the Administration of Criminal Justice in Delta State, presented by Mr. Onyekachi Asogwa, Esq., stated that the primary aim of bail is to allow a defendant, who is legally presumed to be innocent, to attend to his trial without the punitive, lonely and sometime violence experience of confinement in jail; and that its main aim is also allow a defendant to enjoy adequate time and facilities to prepare his defense. It discussed the impact of harsh bail conditions on the fundamental rights of the defendant and also how harsh bail condition and sentencing impact on the psychology and socioeconomic life of the defendant.
The paper maintained that deprivation of personal liberty, which is a fundamental rights, is permitted when there is “reasonable suspicion” that the person committed a criminal offence; and that in the absence of reasonable suspicion, the deprivation of personal liberty amounts to a violation of fundamental rights. While highlighting on the presumption of innocence until found guilty, it stated that when the defendant is unable to meet the bail conditions, he is remanded in prison custody awaiting trial, suffers the fate of the guilty and even worse than the guilty until his innocence is established by the failure of the prosecution to prove his case. He pointed out that there are many innocent people in prison custody awaiting trial because they cannot meet their harsh bail condition, hence congesting the prison.
The paper emphasized that the whole jurisprudence of bail is to forestall the phenomenon of the innocent suffering the fate of the guilty. Section 158 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) 2015 provides that: “when a person is suspected to have committed an offence or is accused of an offence is arrested or detained, or appears or is brought before a court, he shall… be entitled to a bail”. Bail therefore is a fundamental right. However it is not absolute. Section 165(1) of ACJA provides that: “The
conditions for bail in any case shall be at the discretion of court with due regard to the circumstances of the case and shall not be excessive”.
Therefore, when the condition is excessive, the whole aim of bail is defeated, the right of the defendant is violated and bail becomes jail; and that what is excessive depends on the circumstance of the case and the discretion of the court; and that in many cases the Judges take primarily the nature of the case into consideration in determining the bail condition.
He further discussed, the right to fair hearing, guilty plea and the psychological and socioeconomic impact of harsh bail condition and harsh sentencing; and cited three cases where the accused persons were remanded in prison simply because they were unable to meet up with the strict and harsh bail conditions.
The Participants at the Conference observed that:
- That the event is of vital importance to the reform of Criminal Justice in Delta State.
- The Conference programme included: the welcome address, the opening speech, four (4) lead presentations, three (3) goodwill messages then followed by discussions by the participants. The following presentations were made: a) Overcoming long / unnecessary Court Adjournment; b) Alternative to Incarceration: a Panacea for Prison Congestion; c) The Role of ADR in the Administration of Criminal Justice System in Delta State, Expanding the Frontiers of Law Enforcement Agencies / Courts with Restorative Justice Approach; d) The Impact of Harsh Bail Conditions / Sentences on the Administration of Criminal Justice System in Delta State.
Following the discussions and debates, the participants learnt and brainstormed the followings among many:
- That a visit to any prison and detention facility in Nigeria will immediately give you a clear understanding of how Nigeria treats its citizens, particularly the poor, that the prisons and detention facilities across the country are overcrowded. That feeding is extremely poor and access to healthcare, access to justice, access to rehabilitation and reintegration program remain critically poor and severely inadequate. The prisons are old and unfit for human habitation. That most prisons are more than 100 years old and that many have not gone through significant renovation and that out of over 70,000 prisoners in Nigeria, more than 50,000 are awaiting trials, representing over 70%.
Some of the factors said to be responsible are:
- A) Low investment in welfare spending, leading to marginalization, exclusion, poverty and high results in high crime rate. B) Access to illegal fire arms and light weapons, and that according to a recent United Nations report which have been confirmed by the Federal Government that out of 500 million illegal arms and light weapons in West Africa, a whopping 350 million representing 70% are in Nigeria.
- C) The excessive and abusive use of pre-trial detention, which is one of the most common human rights violations in Nigeria that is often ignored. We learnt that reducing the number of pretrial will resolve the prison overcrowding, limit the spread of diseases, reduce poverty, save tax payers money and spur development.
ii In line with the theme of the conference: the Role of Human Rights and Rule of Law in the Administration of Criminal Justice in Delta State, is a call on all the arms of Criminal Justice System to comply with the provision of Section 293 of the ACJ ACT, 2015 which provides for a detention time limit of 56 days and Section 35(4,5) of our 1999 Constitution which provides detention time limit of 24 and 48 hours to eliminate prolonged pre-trial detention in Nigeria and respect for the Human Rights and the Rule of Law.
iii. We learnt that the Delta State Justice Department has never illegally detained prisoners and that the Department periodically carries out checks with the latest tour concluded as at December 17th of 2017 with the following accomplishments:
* A nursing mother was freed from the prison in Agbor.
* A mentally ill person was freed from prison in Warri.
- That, the two NGOs – Citizens United for the Rehabilitation of Errants (CURE) and Bonum Seeds Foundation (BSF) have come together in collaboration with the Ministry of Justice and the Office of the Chief Judge of Delta State to facilitate speedy trial of criminal cases and reforms of the prisons by taking the Prison out of the Exclusive List to the Concurrent List, which is the major objective of the Reform Initiative.
- That, the Administration of Criminal
Justice in Delta State is essentially governed by the Criminal Procedure Law Cap C22 of the Delta
State of Nigeria, 2006 and that the issue of reform of Criminal Justice System has engaged the
attention of various stakeholders such as legal practitioners, judges, human rights activists, NGOs, police officers, prison officials, the academia, government departments and general public.
- That, there has been a consensus amongst stakeholders on the urgent need for reform in the
Criminal Justice System in broad areas such as humane penal policy, payment of compensation of victims of crime, sentencing practices, the prison system, police and prosecution of offenders, plea bargain, prison congestion, etc. vii. That, the whole essence of the reform agenda is to ensure that ultimately where there is a breach of the criminal law, the victim, the society and even the offender will be satisfied by the
measure of responsiveness of the Criminal Justice System to the occasion. viii. That, Delta State domesticated the Administrative Criminal Justice Act, (ACJA) 2015, when it enacted the Delta State Administration of Criminal Justice Law, 2016. That the 493 – Section enactment came into force on the 15th day of March, 2017, and that the Reform has revolutionary and far reaching provisions on: prohibition of arrest of relatives and associates of suspects, notification of cause of arrest and other due process rights, prohibition of arrest in civil cases, recording of arrests, establishment of a
police central criminal record, quarterly reports to the Office of the Attorney-General of the State, police reporting to supervising Magistrates, humane treatment of arrest persons, speedy arraignment, right to counsel, bail and deposit of money or other security, women sureties, professional bondspersons, plea bargain, remand and time protocol for remand orders, content of proof of evidence, case management by the Chief Judge, suspended sentence/parole, payment of compensation to victims of crime, conditional release of offenders/probation, etc.
- That, the establishment of the Criminal Division of High Court in all the three senatorial districts of the State to deal solely with criminal cases within their jurisdiction. That the with the appointment of more judicial officers, the Criminal Divisions of the High Court will have more judges and criminal cases will be disposed of expeditiously. Thatundue adjournments are at times due to inadequate means of transportation to bring the inmates to courts.
- That, the Role of the Rule of Law and Human Right in reforming the Criminal Justice system in Delta State has been carefully selected to reflect the core issues of Rule of Law and Human Rights and their interplay in bringing about positive changes in the Administration of Criminal Justice.
- The Conference’s first achievement was recorded when the Chief Judge of Delta State ordered the O/C Legal of the Nigerian Prisons in the state to bring the list of all cases awaiting the DPP’s approval for trial to him immediately.
- The Attorney General also acknowledged the fact that his presence is a good one because if he had not been there, he could not have heard most of the complaints directed at his office.
- Contributing, Mr. Uhaa also made it known that there are monies that can be tapped outside the country with the collaboration of the two NGOs i.e Citizens United for the Rehabilitation of Errants and Bonum Seeds Foundation to the State and Federal Ministries of Justice.
- The Chief Judge also promised to present most of the issues raised by Mr. Chike Onyemenam (SAN) about delays in the Justice System that causes congestion of prisons in Delta State and the entire country at large before the EFCC Chairman tomorrow to strengthen their investigation system for a speedy trial.
Many participants appreciated the organizers of the Conference for the impact and outcome of the event and prayed for more of such meetings in the future.
Engr. Idorenyin Ebong, Chairman of Bonum Seeds Foundation, made the closing remark and appreciated the Almighty God and all the participants, most especially His Lordship, Hon. Justice Marshal Umukoro, the Chief Judge of Delta State for his immeasurable support, partnership and cooperation towards the success of this conference. He also thanked the Attorney General of Delta State, Speaker of Delta State House of Assembly, Hon. Commissioner of Justice, Hon. Commissioner for Women Affairs and Social Development, Hon. Commissioner of Police, the Justices, Magistrates and other dignitaries, present or who sent their representatives.
He declared the Conference closed and wished everyone farewell and safe journey. Over 250 participants from various Ministries, Departments, Agencies, NGOs, Prison, Armed Forces and Civil Societies met at the Conference organized by Citizens United for the Rehabilitation of Errants (CURE) and BONUM SEEDS FOUNDATION (BSF) in collaboration with the High Court of Justice, Delta State, learnt and brainstormed on the Role of the Rule of Law and Human Rights in Reforming the Criminal Justice System in Delta State. The Citizens United for the Rehabilitation of the Errants (CURE) and Bonum Seeds Foundation (BSF) in collaboration with the High Court of Justice, Delta State have begun a collaborative journey towards realizing the total reformation of the Criminal Justice System in Delta State, through efficient engagement of Role of Law and Human Rights. This conference is the necessary first step and the gains made shall be maximized speedily so that the just concluded conference is not just one of those conferences where there so many good things are said but little action recorded.
Pictures from the conference