THE ROLE OF THE ADMINISTRATION OF CRIMINAL JUSTICE ACT IN THE SPEEDY DISPENSATION OF JUSTICE IN NIGERIA
The Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) was signed into law in 2015 in a bid to revolutionize the administration of criminal justice in Nigeria. It repealed the Criminal Procedure Act (CPA) and Criminal Procedure Code (CPC) of Southern and Northern Nigeria respectively.
The purpose of the Act is to ensure that the system of Administration of Criminal Justice in Nigeria promotes efficient management of criminal justice institutions, speedy dispensation of justice, protection of society from crime and protection of the rights and interests of the suspect, defendant, and victim.
As noted above, one of the purposes of the Act is the enhancement of speedy administration of criminal justice. According to the Chief Justice of Nigeria Hon. Justice Walter Onnoghen, delay in the administration of justice is a major challenge facing the Nigerian Judiciary (Vanguard Newspaper 24th July, 2017). Delay has over the years no doubt been a major impediment to effective and speedy dispensation of criminal justice in Nigeria. The Act was therefore enacted to address this concern amongst others.
One major resultant effect of these delays is the overcrowding of prisons across the country. A report of the National Bureau of Statistics states that Awaiting Trial Persons (ATPs) account for a staggering 73% of the total prison population in the country.
The ACJA made some innovative provisions aimed at solving the problem of delays in criminal trials. These provisions have been put in place to ensure amongst others, speedy trial and quick disposal of criminal cases in the interest and as a right of a suspect, the defendant, the victim and in fact the society at large.
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A PEEP INTO SOME OF THE INNOVATIVE SECTIONS AIMED AT ENSURING SPEEDY DISPENSATION OF CRIMINAL CASES IN THE ADMINISTRATION OF CRIMINAL JUSTICE ACT, 2015
In total, The ACJ Act has 495 Sections through which its tentacles spread across every major aspect of criminal justice system.
Section 110 ACJA provides for a timeline in which criminal trials must be commenced and concluded in Magistrates’ Courts. The Act requires that trial must commence within thirty days of filing and concluded within a reasonable time.
It further provides that where trial is not commenced within stipulated time (30 days) and concluded within a hundred and eighty days of arraignment, the particulars of the charge shall be forwarded to the Chief Judge with reasons for failure to commence or conclude the trial. It therefore follows that according to the Act, reasonable time means not more than one hundred and eighty days of arraignment
Section 396 (4), provided that the interval between each adjournment shall not exceed 14 working days. Where it becomes impracticable to conclude the trial after both parties have exhausted five adjournments each, section 396 (5) is to the effect that the interval between further adjournments shall not exceed seven days inclusive of weekends. The court is also mandated to award reasonable costs pursuant to section 396 (6), this is aimed at discouraging frivolous adjournments.
Another important factor that has also hindered the speedy conclusion of criminal trials over the years is the situation where cases have to be tried de novo because the presiding judge has been elevated to a superior court. Such circumstances have received consideration under the ACJA. Section 396 (7) allows a Judge of the High Court who has been elevated to the Court of Appeal to preside as a High Court judge for the purpose of concluding a criminal case pending before the judge at the time of the elevation. The case shall however be concluded within a reasonable time.
However as regards the above, there have been arguments that the section is ultra-varies the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended), as the Constitution does not make provision for such instances. Section 1(1) and (3) of the Constitution provides thus;
1(1) The Constitution is Supreme and its provisions shall have binding force on all authorities and persons throughout the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
(3) If any other law is inconsistent with the provisions of the Constitution, this Constitution shall prevail and that other law shall to the extent of the inconsistency be void”
Another novel provision in the ACJA aimed at speeding up criminal trials is section 111 which makes it mandatory for the Controller-General of Prisons to make returns (every 90 days) of all persons held in prison custody for more than 180 days after the date of arraignment. The contents of the returns include the name of the suspect, passport photograph, date of arraignment or remand, date of admission to custody, particulars of the offence charged, court of arraignment, name of prosecuting agency and any other relevant information. These returns shall be made to the following persons:
- The Chief Judge of the Federal High Court;
- Chief Judge of the Federal Capital Territory;
- President of the National Industrial Court;
- Chief Judge of the State in which the prison is situated and;
- The Attorney-General of the Federation.
The biggest criticism of the criminal justice system in Nigeria is the snail pace with which criminal justice is dispensed.
Following the introduction of the Act, a number of innovations emerged which not only improved the human rights in Nigeria by virtue of its laws, but also served as major breakthroughs to the problems of prolonged trials in federal courts.
The ACJA 2015, most especially the provisions discussed above are deliberate measures aimed at addressing this problem of unnecessarily prolonged criminal trials. Consequently, if implemented properly, the Act will no doubt restore the confidence of people in the criminal justice system.
18 out of the states in the country have adopted the Act as the Administration of Criminal Justice Law (ACJL). It is important for other states to follow in that direction to ensure speedy and efficient criminal justice delivery and uniformity in criminal justice administration across the board.
Written by: Kikelomo Lamidi and Collins Okeke - The Human Rights Law Service