The Lagos State Administration of Criminal Justice (Amendment) Law (ACJL) 2021 now empowers trial judges to award compensation to victims of crimes who suffer injuries as a result of an action of a guilty defendant.
The Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Moyosore Onigbanjo (SAN), made this known while addressing reporters at the weekend on some unique features of the ACJL, signed into law recently by Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu.
According to the AG, Section 372 of the law gives power to judges to award commensurate compensation in criminal cases where victims have suffered losses or injuries unlike in the past where this only applies to people who have suffered financial losses.
Onigbanjo said: “Section 372 gave power to the judge to award compensation in criminal cases where victims have suffered losses or injuries, the judge also has the power to forfeit the properties of the guilty defendants or any other person or state and ordered them to be sold to compensate the victim of crimes.
“So, it no longer applies to people who suffered financial damages but also to people who suffer injuries by the action relating to that crime.
“In doing so, the court in considering the award of compensation to the victim may call for additional evidence to enable it to determine the quantum of compensation to award,” he said.
The Attorney-General also said the ACJL in Section 370 mandated the state to establish a crime data register.
He said the data register is an electronic repository of information on suspects and offenders either convicted or awaiting trial who passed through the Criminal Justice System from the point of arrest through prosecution up until the judgment is delivered.
Onigbanjo further stated that the register would also serve as a criminal records database and organisations in the state may apply to obtain criminal records, particularly of sex offenders.
“It will also assist the police in the investigation of crime as sufficient information on all convicted persons will be available, which should make it easy to identify convicts in subsequent proceedings,” he said.
He also cited Section 298, which empowers the Court to make an order of interim forfeiture of properties before the commencement or conclusion of a trial where there is reasonable ground to believe such property has been used or provided for the commission of the offence charged.
He stated that the section also empowers the court to make an interim order to freeze monies in such accounts where there is reason to believe that monies in an account are reasonably suspected to be proceeds of illegal or unlawful transaction and would not be available during and after the trial.
“So, if it is money, for example, it can be frozen and kept in the account, which means the account holder cannot withdraw funds from the account until the order is lifted and if it is a property, a judge can order that a seal be placed on the building until a verdict is reached by the court.
“Section 76, which deals with Plea and Sentence Agreements have been re-drafted to expand the scope. The Provision now allows for Prosecution to offer Plea Bargain to a defendant charged with an offence in the interest of justice, public policy and the need to prevent abuse of legal process.
“Consent of the victims or their representative may also be sought during the process. However, the prosecution may not enter into plea bargaining after the defence has opened his case.
“The provision enables the Judge or Magistrate to make an order transferring the assets or properties agreed to be forfeited under the plea bargain agreement to the victim of the crime or the legal representative or any person entitled to it. It creates a penalty of seven years for the willful obstruction of such transfer,” Onigbanjo maintained.
Meanwhile, the Centre for Socio-Legal Studies (CSLS), led by Prof. Yemi Akinseye-George (SAN), has praised Lagos for updating the ACJL.
Akinseye-George (SAN) noted that the development had placed Lagos ahead of other states in the modernisation of criminal justice system in the country.
A statement by the CSLS reads: “We wish to commend the Lagos State Government for updating the Administration of Criminal Justice Law of the state.
“By so doing, not only has the law been brought into conformity with the Federal Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) 2015, it has surpassed the ACJA by incorporating more modern features which are not found in the ACJA.
“The CSLS considers the passage of the new ACJL of Lagos State as a step in the right direction and a boost for the efforts of the government of the state to deepen the reform of criminal justice in the state and reinvigorate the system to be more effective in reducing criminality in the state.
“Our centre will partner the state to build capacity for the proper implementation of the law.
“We recommend the adoption of the National Minimum Standards Template to guide the state going forward.
“These standards can be downloaded from the website: nms.ng powered by the Centre for Socio-Legal Studies.”