Presentation of the Plea Bargain Manual – Lagos AG’s Remarks

AG Lagos Adeniji Kazeem (file)

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Read below, full text of the Lagos Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Mr. Adeniji Kazeem’s remarks at the presentation of the Plea Bargain Manual Held on Thursday, 21st of September, 2017 at The Conference Room, Ministry of Justice, Alausa-Ikeja:

I welcome you all, to this gathering which once again demonstrates our commitment to the reform and development of the Administration of Justice in Lagos State. Let me start by thanking the Honourable Chief Judge, Hon. Justice Olufunmilayo Atilade, and all stakeholders here represented for their continued partnership and dedication to ensuring an effective justice delivery process in Lagos State.

It is no news that the plea bargain theory has been part of our criminal justice system for over a decade in Lagos State, yet its applicability has been poorly utilized by lawyers.

Section 75 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Law of Lagos State, 2015 empowers my Office to consider and accept plea bargain proposals from and on behalf of a Defendant.

Undoubtedly, in many jurisdictions, plea bargaining has served as an important, useful and effective tool used to keep the wheels of justice moving in a timely and cost effective manner. Given that the length of time Awaiting Trial Inmates/detainees remain in prison custody is mainly dependent on the length of court proceedings, it is important as stakeholders to embrace creative provisions in our law to decongest the prisons. It is against this backdrop that the plea bargain protocol/manual was designed.

The manual provides practical information about what Plea Bargain entails, the procedure for applying and general information that would make the process less complicated for all stakeholders. It is presented in very simple English to ensure that even the layman on the street can understand it.

I commend the use of plea bargain to all and sundry. Private counsel should imbibe the culture of advising their clients appropriately especially in the face of overwhelming evidence rather than the usual practice of encouraging them to plead “not guilty”.

I am mindful of the fact that the law places the burden on the prosecution to prove its case beyond reasonable doubt, however, the Defence has a pivotal role to play in discharging its duties to the Court.

Between January 2017 and now, the Directorate of Public Prosecutions has filed Information Papers in respect of the 1086 cases in the High Court alone and 56 charges filed in the Magistrate court for prosecution by the Department, while the Police also prosecute a number of cases in the Magistrate Court.

This gives us a glimpse of the volume of criminal cases that require processing in our Administration of Criminal Justice system and underscores the need for exploration of alternative methods of resolving criminal cases without going through the full gamut of trial.

In a bid to ensure maximum transparency and objectivity in the bargaining process, a Plea Bargain Committee was set up in April 2017 to consider/review cases in which proposals for plea bargain were made to my office and to make appropriate recommendations on them.

The committee has considered 14 cases so far and the plea Bargain process has been successfully concluded in the cases. The offences in the cases considered include Conspiracy and Murder, Armed Robbery, Robbery, Manslaughter, Causing Death by Dangerous Driving and Forgery.

More applications have started trickling in for the next sitting of the Committee.

We recognise the many challenges bedevilling the criminal justice system in Nigeria and especially in Lagos State given its high population, however, this Administration is committed to tackling the issues and proposing appropriate reforms.

Recently, His Excellency Governor Akinwunmi Ambode approved the establishment of the first DNA and Forensic Centre in Nigeria, to improve the quality of evidence gathered by the Police, to achieve a more scientific-led investigation. The centre will soon be commissioned.

I wish to particularly solicit the cooperation of members of the various Branches of the Nigeria Bar Association. This hand of fellowship is by that reason extended to all lawyers across the State. It is a matter of historical validity that the bond between the Ministry of Justice and the private bar is age-long and well cherished. I am optimistic that we will continue to benefit from this historical symbiotic relationship.

As ministers in the temple of justice, I call upon you to ensure that justice is dispensed to all men without undue delay. This is very important considering that justice delayed is justice denied.

It is apt for me to state that this Office is fully committed to ensuring speedy and fair dispensation of justice to all the citizenry regardless of economic or social status. This commitment extends to providing a secure environment for commercial and other economic activities to thrive and we will not hesitate to prosecute defendants who have been found to have committed commercial or financial related offences which are contrary to offences created by statute.

However, it is important to reiterate that my office understands and indeed is constantly mindful of the unbargainable need to exercise its discretionary powers to prosecute, not to prosecute, take over or discontinue criminal cases within its jurisdiction as entrenched in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) with a great sense of responsibility devoid of any bias, prejudice, fear or favour.

Therefore, prosecutorial powers of this Office will not be used as a platform for settling commercial disputes, family quarrels or Land tussles and we will not be pressurized to act in the interest of one party against the interest of another party or any party where no criminal offence has been committed. To do otherwise would be against the Constitutional responsibilities of my office; therefore we are fully committed to the tenets of justice and our prosecutors discharge their duties with professionalism while operating within the parameters of clearly defined and transparent prosecution policy guidelines.

I wish to assure you that all proposals for plea bargaining will be considered dispassionately by the committee set up to review them, bearing in mind the need to promote public integrity and public interest.

It is my expectation that the availability of a forum for quick and efficient dispensation of justice will buoy the confidence of citizens in the Administration of criminal justice in Lagos.

Let me end by expressing profound gratitude to His Excellency, the Governor of Lagos State, Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode under whose watch this achievement is taking place. I am most grateful to the Judiciary, the Police, the Prisons and other stakeholders for their cooperation in preserving the rule of law and ensuring safety of lives and property in line with this Administration’s goals and objectives.

My hope is that the formal presentation of this manual would trigger a change of attitude from our “don’t plead guilty” approach even in the face of overwhelming evidence against the Defendant.

This would go a long way in decongesting not only the Courts but also decongesting the Prisons who are already groaning under the burden of the Population in their care.

As I said at the outset, it is only through collaboration that we will succeed. We owe it to ourselves as committed justice sector participants, but more importantly, we owe it to the good people of Lagos State who rely on our justice system.

Thank you for listening.

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