Delimitating the Prosecutorial Powers of Police for a More Efficient Criminal Justice Administration in Nigeria; Recommendations – Sylvester C. Udemezue

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Excerpts

Recommendations

Having said this, it is considered pertinent here to recommend that relevant governments and stakeholders should, as a matter of urgency, set necessary machinery in motion to amend provisions of the Administration of Criminal Justice (Repeal & Re-enactment) Law, Lagos, the Criminal Procedure Code Act and the Criminal Procedure Laws of the various States in Nigeria, so as to extend or replicate this innovative step started by the ACJA to all other courts and criminal jurisdictions in Nigeria, with a view to completely removing lay police officers from all aspects of criminal prosecution in all parts of Nigeria. Such move, which is long overdue, would considerably reduce the amount of delays currently being experienced in criminal proceedings and ensure a speedier and more effective administration of criminal justice.

Lay police officers’ involvement in criminal prosecution is partly responsible for the worsening cases of awaiting trial cases and prison congestion in the country. Because of their professional limitations in this area, so many of the so-called police prosecutors are not able to match or withstand the legal firework of professionally qualified lawyers who act as defence counsel in courts during criminal prosecutions, because these lay police officers do not understand the intricacies of formal courtroom proceedings and trial procedure, and more often than not have very little or no preparation prior to their court appearances.

There is no doubt that when lay police officers are finally completely disengaged from criminal prosecution in all the courts in the country, more jobs would be available for professionally qualified legal practitioners; prosecution of all criminal cases in all courts in Nigerian would then be taken over by only lawyers. However, the clamour for extrication of lay policemen from criminal prosecution is primarily not targeted at creating more jobs for lawyers, but rather at leaving criminal prosecution in the hands of lawyers who alone understand the law and are well able to match the expertise of defence counsel in court, fire-for-fire, to ensure that justice is dispensed in good time and more efficiently.

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However, as beautiful as the switch from the ugly era of lay prosecutors to prosecution by duly qualified lawyers may seem, there appears to be one major challenge that stares us in the face, in the event of full implementation of the move. The manpower capacity for prosecution appears insufficient; the Federal Ministry of Justice and the various State Ministries of Justice do not currently have the required manpower requirement to effectively cope with the pressure that would follow a 100-percent disengagement of lay prosecutors from criminal trials. Hence, there is need to increase significantly the number of lawyers in the employment of government Ministries and Departments, especially the Ministries of Justice, in readiness for this challenge.

Nonetheless, the situation may not be as bad as one contemplates because the Nigerian Police Force itself has in its employment (that is, in its legal department) a sizeable number of trained lawyers who are capable to undertake criminal prosecution alongside public Law Officers and other special prosecutors, subject to the power and control of the Attorneys-General. Apart from the Police, each of the other law enforcement agencies, the EFCC, the ICPC, the NSDC, the DSS, the NIS, the Nigerian Customs, the NDLEA, the NAFDAC, FRSC, etc., has a legal department peopled by competent lawyers who usually play the role of Special Prosecutors in specialized criminal trials. Their efforts would no doubt augment those of the Police, the Ministries of Justice and Government Departments.

Furthermore, the recent practice by some Law Enforcement Agencies of retaining external solicitors and then of farming out to such solicitors specialized briefs for purposes of criminal prosecution, could also assist in ensuring efficiency and speedier prosecution of criminal cases. Meanwhile, each Local Government Council in the Federation should be encouraged to set up a Legal Department or legal section within the Council area. Such Department or Section would be staffed by legal practitioners, who apart from playing other equally important roles and attending to the legal needs of the Local Government Council, could assist in prosecution of some cases, especially in courts located within the local council areas.

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In conclusion, it could now be said that there is hardly any good ground for continuing to accommodate lay prosecutors within the Nigerian criminal justice space. The practice of using policemen who are not lawyers to prosecute criminal cases in Nigeria dates back to the colonial era; there was then insufficient number of qualified lawyers to handle such cases, thus justifying their involvement which used to be in the nature of extemporization. Happily, today, the legal profession in Nigeria has come of age; there are currently over 60,000 qualified lawyers in Nigeria. So, just as it happened in 1913 when an application by one J. Osho Davies to be appointed a local (self-taught) attorney in Nigeria was turned down by the Chief Justice of Nigeria on ground that the era of self-taught attorney was over in Nigeria, today, in 2017, the use of lay prosecutors in the Nigeria`s criminal justice administration has become outmoded and ought to be discontinued in all courts, as the practice has done, and still does more harm than good to our judicial and justice system. The Nigerian Federal legislature (the National Assembly) deserves kudos for the innovative stride in the ACJA, 2015, but the job is not complete until all other relevant statutes are modified to follow suit, so as to rid our criminal justice system of activities of quack prosecutors who, as far as criminal prosecution is concerned, are nothing but square pegs in round holes.

Sylvester Udemezue is a Lecturer at Nigerian Law School, Victoria Island, Lagos, Nigeria: +234 (0) 802 136 5545. udemsyl@gmail.com, udemezue@lawschoollagos.org.

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