The Court of Appeal has held that departments and offices set up by state ministries of justice to provide free legal services to indigent and oppressed litigants cannot defend accused persons in criminal trial.
This was the decision of the Court of Appeal in the case of Ibiloye Matthew V The State (2017) All FWLR Pt 868 P. 663 where the court was called upon to determine the appropriateness of the officers from the Citizen’s Right Department Ogun State Ministry of Justice defending an accused (the appellant) in a case of armed robbery. The Court held in part:
In the circumstances therefore, the question to be answered is what will be the impression of a reasonable person seeing two counsel from the office of the Attorney General of Ogun State, appearing in the same case; one prosecuting and the other defending. At the risk of exaggeration, such trial would look like a moot court. After all, since the learned trial judge in the exercise of his powers rightly assigned the Legal Aid Council, which is independent of the Attorney General’s office to prosecute the defence of the appellant, one would wonder why the solicitousness of the officers in the office of the Attorney General to act as defence counsel, in the matter the same office is prosecuting. I think discretion and sense of fairness should have impressed on them to trea the course of caution. I accordingly agree with learned counsel for the appellant that, a reasonable person who was present at the trial may have the impression that there was a gang up against the appellant by counsel in the office of Attorney General of Ogun State.
It is for the above reason and the fuller reasons in the lead judgment that I agree that the appellant did not enjoy a fair hearing at the court below. His right to fair hearing was therefore breached.
Per Tsammani JCA
Citizen’s Right Department (CRD) Office of the Public Defender (OPD), etc you people should come and hear o!
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