Court Declares Parade of Suspects Unconstitutional; Awards 10M Damages against Police

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For a very long time now, it has become the practice nay, the norm for police officers to parade persons suspected of committing one offence or the other before the public.

Usually, in a bid by the police to convince the public that they are alive to their responsibilities, they are quick to showcase arrested suspects as trophies of war before newsmen and journalists.

However, the Joint Legal Action Aid (JLAA) has finally gotten the court to declare this obnoxious practice as illegal and unconstitutional.

Read the story according to Kingsley Ughe the General counsel 1 for the JLAA below:

Chukwuba Onwuka and 9 others were arrested for being members of a pro-Biafran groups, the Biafra Zionist Federation led by Mr. Benjamin Onwuka, in Anambra State.

The members of the group were arrested on the grounds of breaching the peace while agitating for the actualization of a sovereign state of Biafra.

In a manner that was apparently calculated to humiliate the suspects, they were paraded half-naked before newsmen who in turn featured their pictures in their tabloids with nationwide circulation.

Immediately, JLAA wrote a protest letter to the Inspector General of Police (the IGP) demanding for apology and compensation for and on behalf of the victims of this humiliating parade.

The IGP ignored JLAA ‘ s demand whereupon JLAA filed a suit against the IGP demanding for 250 million Naira damages on behalf of the victims.

Yesterday, the Federal High Court gave judgment in favour of JLAA and awarded 10M against the Police. The police immediately announced their intention to appeal the judgment.

The court held that by the adjectival nature of Nigerian justice system, every accused person is presumed innocent until proven otherwise by the law courts after a full trial.

The implication flowing from this is that both in the course of arrest, investigation and prosecution, an accused person is to be accorded the same treatment that a law enforcement agent will give to every other law-abiding citizen.

Thus, it will be a negation of this age-old principle for an accused person to be treated in a manner which is prejudicial to his rights as a citizen, except on the grounds of derogation permitted by the law.

The court cited the case of Ndukwem Chiziri Nice v. AG, Federation & Anor. (2007) CHR 218 at 232 where Justice Banjoko held that “The act of parading him (the suspect) before the press as evidenced by the Exhibits annexed to the affidavit was uncalled for and a callous disregard for his person. He was shown up to the public the next day of his arrest even without any investigation conducted in the matter. He was already prejudged by the police who are incompetent, so to have such function, it is the duty of the court to pass a verdict of guilt and this constitutes a clear breach of section 36(4) and (5) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 on the doctrine of fair hearing.”

The Court further relied on Dyot Bayi & 14 Ors. V. Federal Republic of Nigeria (2004-2009) CCJLER 245 at 265 where the Community Court of Justice, ECOWAS Court condemned the media trial of Applicants when it held that:

“The Court is of the opinion that for the fact that the Defendants presented the Applicants before the press when no judge or court has found them guilty, certainly constitute a violation of the principle of presumption of innocence such as provided in Article 7(b) of the same African Charter and not a violation in the sense of Article 5 of the said Charter.” The Court proceeded to award damages of US$42,750.00 to each of the 10 Applicants and the US$10,000.00 as costs payable by the Federal Government for the illegal actions of the naval personnel who carried out the illegal parade of the applicants.

JLAA INSIST that the right to the dignity of human person, unlike other fundamental rights, is so sacrosanct that no permissible ground is allowed for its violation. A citizen’s right to life may be denied if convicted of a criminal offence involving the death penalty. A citizen’s right to freedom of movement may be curtailed in times of emergency. A person’s right to freedom of association may be denied, if the association is one that is manifestly dangerous to public safety. However, the right to the dignity of human person does not permit of any derogation.

The importance attached to this right forms the basis for the various laws, both local and international, which prohibit torture, and other forms of dehumanizing treatment to a fellow human being. JLAA will not relent and shall continue to insist that relevant authorities respect this right.

The concept of the rule of law, which is the lifeblood of every democratic setting, suggests that every person is equal before the law and is equally subject to the law. This necessarily means that even law enforcement agents who are custodians of the law are equally subject to the laws which establish them and which regulates their mode of operation.

As we await the appeal of this judgment by the Nigerian Police Authority, JLAA congratulates Mr. Onwuka and the nine victims of this shameful practice. This is a victory not just for all JLAA members but to freedom and liberty generally.

To the Police, JLAA waits  your appeal and is ready to meet you in “Philippine”

Kingsley Ughe, General Counsel 1 of the Joint Legal Action Aid can be reached via k.ughe@aol.com

 

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