Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi has raised salient points on the recently passed Administration of Criminal Justice Law Enugu State. Do you agree with him?
THE ENUGU STATE ADMINISTRATION OF CRIMINAL JUSTICE LAW, 2017: WHITHER THE LEGISLATIVE INGENUITY?
The Nigerian criminal justice system is largely occupied by English legislations incorporated into our corpus juris by virtue of colonial ties. These laws have been applied for many decades without significant modifications and upward review which will bring same in tune with present reality. In general terms, the nuts and bolts of the criminal justice system deals with the law, mechanisms and players saddled with the responsibility of punishing offences and offenders. In other words, it is the gamut of mechanisms targeted at punishing offensive acts.
Each state in Nigeria has prior to now, adopted either the Criminal Procedure Act or the Criminal Procedure Code. These laws have been applied for many decades without significant improvement. However, as a result of the need to sanitize the criminal justice system, a Reform Administration of Criminal Justice was first developed in 2005 by the National Working Group on the reform of the criminal justice in Nigeria. As a result of the concerted effort of this group, we currently have The Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015 which applies to federal courts and federal offences as the case may be.
As expected, various states in the federation are enjoined to enact and domesticate the provisions of the federal Act. Fortunately, Enugu state has proven to be the pacesetter having passed into law on the 26th day of January 2017, the Administration of Criminal Justice Law which shall herein after be referred to as “ACJL”.
The enactment of the law has proved that law is truly dynamic as it appears to have virtually taken care of nearly all the cankerworm which has eaten quite deep into the fabrics of our criminal justice system in the state. This article therefore reviews the innovative provisions of the new law which by its provision repealed the Criminal Procedure Law Cap 31. Revised laws of Enugu state 2004 and merged other subsidiary procedural laws into a single principal state law which is meant to apply uniformly in all high courts and magistrate courts within the state. The law, which builds upon the existing legislations with a comparative advantage of filling the perceived lacunae is hereby sought to be reviewed in order to determine whether what lies therein is a palatable dish of legislative ingenuity or a public exhibition of legislative rascality.
*APPLICABILITY OF THE LAW
First of all, a cursory look at the tittle of the statute reads thus: “A Law to make provisions for the procedure to be followed in Criminal Cases in the High Court and Magistrates’ Courts in Enugu State”. Furthermore, the section 3 of the law expressly provides that:
The general provisions of this Law shall apply to criminal trials and other criminal proceedings in the High Court and Magistrates’ Courts except when express provision is made in this Law or in any Law in respect of any particular court or form of trial.
Without more, the above section clearly establishes the scope of application of the law as regards criminal proceedings in the high and magistrates courts of Enugu state save where the ACJL itself or any other law make for exceptions.
By virtue of section 1 (b) thereof, The Criminal Procedure Law Cap. 31 stand repealed
*ARREST IN LIEU PROHIBITED
The wording of section 8 of the law is very clear and express. It admits of no other interpretation. The said section specifically prohibits arrest in lieu. Hence, a person shall not be arrested in place of a suspect. Without more, this will curtail the abuse of power manifested by the police and other agencies – EFCC, NDLEA, ICPC, NAFDAC where relatives and close associates of the suspect are arrested in lieu of the suspect. This will go a long way to decongest our prisons. In the federal level, a similar provision is contained in section 7 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015.
*MANDATORY INVENTORY OF PROPERTY
Section 12 of ACJL mandates the police upon arrest to take inventory recovered from suspects and same must be duly signed by the police officer and the suspect pursuant to subsection 2 of the above section. However it is still doubtful whether failure of the suspect to sign shall invalidate the inventory recorded. The law happens to be silent on the matter. This is as opposed to the provision of the Federal Act, ACJA which provides that the failure of the suspect to sign is of no effect. On the face value of it, this provision will make for accountability and transparency.
*ESTABLISHMENT OF POLICE CENTRAL REGISTRY
Section 18(1) of the Law established a data collection registry to keep records for future investigation, prosecution and adjudication. The Law provides that the registry is to be established at every state police command which shall keep and transmit criminal records to the central records registry.
* ABOLITION OF STAY OF PROCEEDINGS AND INTERLOCUTORY APPEALS
The effect of a combined reading of sections 258(1) (b) and 258(2)(a) of the ACJL abolished stay of proceedings in criminal trials. Prior to this novel provision, it was common to witness cases last for donkey years under the auspices of stay of proceedings and interlocutory appeals. Thanks to goodness, the above sections can now be likened to a deux ex machina. The relevant sections of the statute are for the purposes of in-depth appraisal reproduced hereunder:
258 (1) (b) any interlocutory appeal in respect of an objection taken before plea shall not operate as a stay of proceedings in the trial court.
258(2) (a) upon arraignment the trial of the defendant shall proceed from day-to-day until the conclusion of the trial.
*ELECTRONIC RECORDING OF TRIALS
Section 219 (1) provides that : Trials in the high court may be recorded electronically by retrievable audio visual means such that where a trial judge is unable to conclude a trial, another judge may be assigned to conclude the proceedings without having to start de novo; Provided that non-recording of proceedings shall not vitiate a valid trial.
*SUSPENDED SENTENCE AND COMMUNITY SERVICE
Section 469 (1) (2) of the law makes provision for suspended sentence and community service thus:
1 Notwithstanding the provision of any other legislation creating an offence, and where the court sees reason, the court may order that the sentence it imposed on the convict be, with or without conditions, suspended, in which case, the convict shall not be required to serve the sentence in accordance with the conditions of the suspension, if any
2 The court may, with or without conditions, sentence the offender to perform specified service in his community or such community or place as the court may direct.
Now the import and importance of the above sections are realized in subsection 3 of section 469 because the essence of community service include making sure that our prisons are decongested, that the prisoners are rehabilitated and ensuring that they engage in productive work which helps the society and finally as a way separating the hardened criminals from minor offenders. A whole line of other novel provisions which apply to community service exist under sections 470, 471, 472, 473, 474, 475, and 476.
Section 477 creates a situation where the court may order the release of the prisoner before completion of the actual terms of sentence.
The first credit of what appears to be an overhaul of the relevant criminal procedure laws in Nigeria goes to the legislative house of Lagos state, having passed the Lagos State Administration of Criminal Justice Law as far back as 2011. The legislative apparatus of the federal government followed suit in 2015 when the Administration of Criminal Justice Act was passed. Whereas it appears that the Enugu State House of Assembly deserves a pat on the back for passing the ACJL 2017. Fortunately Enugu state currently ranks first in Nigeria as far as criminal procedure law is concerned. This is buttressed on the fact that the Lagos state law has been visited by a litany of criticisms and a thousand voices calling for the amendment of some substantial portion of the statute. Accordingly there is currently in motion a strong move to amend sections 7, and 264 thereof to bring same into modern limelight. Commentators are also of the view that a greater part of the law should be amended.
On the other hand, while the Enugu law is clearly modeled after the federal Act, one comes to understand that the ACJL has gone farther ahead of the parent Act to fill in several gaps perceived in this other statute. In any case it should be noted that the federal Act only boasts of 495 sections while the Enugu version has a total of s551 sections.
While the ACJL is commendable for the innovations and for addressing some fundamental factors militating against the smooth and efficient dispensation of criminal justice in the state, there may be reasons to suggest difficulty in the application of some of its provisions. The provisions dealing with suspended sentence and community service though very innovative may be faced with some practical challenges of administration in practice. Funding, indiscipline and lack of independence of some of the key players in the justice system may also be major clogs in the smooth operation of the new Act. The Judiciary and the Nigeria Police are the major participants in the administration and dispensation of criminal justice. There may be an immediate need to review the number of appointed Judges, training of Judges; welfare package for judicial officers and increased provision of facilities, as otherwise, the significance of the new legislation may not be immediately realized.
Finally, it is the submission of the present writer that all the relevant offices and officers saddled with the responsibility of administration of criminal justice should all strive towards speedy and efficient administration of criminal justice otherwise the letters of the new law and its ends may at the end be rendered cosmetic.
LL.B CANDIDATE, FACULTY OF LAW, UNIVERSITY OF NIGERIA.
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