NWLR This Week: Failure to State Language in which Charge was Read Renders Criminal Trial a Nullity

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Parties: The Federal Republic of Nigeria v. Augustine Michael

Appeal No: SC/161/2011

Court: Supreme Court

Justices: IBRAHIM TANKO MUHAMMAD, J.S.C. (Presided and Read the Leading Ruling)
MARY UKAEGO PETER-ODILI J.S.C.
OLUKAYODE ARIWOOLA, J.S.C.
KUMAI BAYANG AKA’AHS, J.S.C
AMINA ADAMU AUGIE, J.S.C.

Citation: (2018) 6 NWLR (Pt. 1616) P.438

The Respondent was on the 17th May, 2006, arraigned before the Federal High Court, Sokoto, charged with unlawful possession of Indian Hemp, contrary to and punishable under section 19 of National Drug Law Enforcement Agency Act Law of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004. The Respondent pleaded guilty to the charge.

The prosecution urged the court to convict the Respondent having pleaded guilty and applied further that some documents and materials be tendered in evidence. The Trial Court admitted the documents and materials, in the absence of objection from the defence and marked them as exhibits. That closed the case for the prosecution.

After conviction however, the prosecution re-opened its case to inform the court that the Respondent had at time been arrested by NDLEA, Zuru Area Command, with small quantity of cannabis and he was counseled and released. Further, the NDLEA, Zuru Area Command, was in receipt of a petition from the State Security Service, Kebbi State Command, on the drug activities of the convict in Zuru Area. The prosecution tendered a letter in evidence to that effect.

The Trial Court admitted the said letter and marked it as exhibit. The Respondent admitted the contents of the letter. He further accepted that he was ex-police man, dismissed from service because of his activities in drugs. He then pleaded for leniency. The Trial Court sentenced the Respondent to fifteen (15) years imprisonment without option of fine.

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On the Respondent’s appeal to the Court of Appeal, after review of the whole case the court found that the procedure adopted by the Trial Court was “most irregular”. The appeal was allowed. The Trial Court’s proceedings were declared a nullity. Conviction of the Appellant quashed and sentence imposed on him set aside. The Respondent was accordingly acquitted and discharged.

Dissatisfied with the Court of Appeal’s decision, the Appellant appeal to the Supreme Court.

Principle:

on effect of failure to state the language in which charge was read and explained to accused person –

Failure to state the language in which the charge was read and explained to an accused, robbed the arraignment of the validity that was essential to jump start the proceedings and thereby infringed on the provisions of section 36(1) of the Constitution and \section 215 of the Criminal Procedure Act. In the instant case, the failure to state the language in which the charge was read and explained to the Respondent rendered his trial a nullity.

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