The Legal Aid Council of Nigeria in collaboration with the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) and United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has concluded plans on free legal services in Nigeria.
The event took place recently at the Reiz Continental Hotel Abuja and centred on pro bono legal services and paralegalism in Nigeria with the LACN and the NBA as the key players.
The Director General of LACN, Mrs. Joy Bob-Manuel, in her opening address, welcomed the Nigerian Bar Association and other dignitaries present at the occasion, and prayed that the NBA and LACN have a more coordinated way of collating data for a more transparent justice system.
She emphasised that access to justice was difficult for the poor and vulnerable groups. This, according to her, meant that these groups of people lacked the wherewithal to seek legal redress and as such, could not challenge their arrest, remand, trial, conviction, detention and release.
The Awaiting Trial Persons (ATPs) are the group that has also posed a huge challenge for the Nigerian Criminal Justice system. This group of people stays long in detention and thereby raise constitutional, legal as well as administrative challenges
The Legal Aid Act of 1976 empowers the council to represent the indigent citizens of Nigeria in court using the salaried lawyers. The truth is that salaried lawyers are not enough to attend to the needs of the indigent persons in a country of over 170 million people, this results to many accused persons spending extended periods awaiting resolutions of their cases due to inadequate legal representation.
The director general further stated that it was on this premise that she was seeking the cooperation of the NBA so that together they could decongest the Nigeria prisons through pro bono services.
“The council has already set the ball rolling as they have about 343 chambers partnering with us as at 2015,” she said.
The Executive Director, Prisons Rehabilitation and Welfare Action (PRAWA), Yinka Lawal Esq., in his presentation, stated that the collaboration would help push forward and formalise the consultations and partnership that started years ago between the LACN and the NBA.
He commended the efforts of UNODC for being a worthy partner and stakeholder in the Nigerian justice system.
Other dignitaries that graced the occasion included Dr. Uju Agomoh of UNODC and Prof. Ayo Atsenuwa of Faculty of Law, Lagos State University all of who emphasised the importance of pro bono as a social service to the citizens of Nigeria and also the need for LACN and NBA to partner so as to move the justice sector forward.
The 2011 amended act mandates LACN to coordinate paralegal services in Nigeria. LACN is already building a pool of trained paralegals, as a prelude to the commencement of accreditation and training of paralegals to meet the ends of justice in the country. LACN is expected to drive the initiative to an acceptable model.
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