The House of Representatives is at the verge of putting finishing touches to a bill that would change the face of the administration of Criminal Justice in Nigeria.
Pioneering this epoch breaking mission is the House Committee Chairman on Justice, Hon Ahmad Ali representing Kwara state.
Two weeks ago, the committee had a one-day public hearing on the bill where stakeholders brain stormed on how the bill could come out of the mill with little blemishes or none at all.
The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon Aminu Tambuwal who declared the event opened did not mince his words when he stated that the bill would be treated with the speed of light on the floor of the House.
The Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Justice Ibrahim Auta,threw a salvo when he suggested that corrupt-related offences should not have any option of fine in the dispensation of criminal justice in Nigeria.
Justice, Auta noted that: “When penalities are stiffened, the incidence of commission naturally comes down but when they are relaxed, the opposite is the case. Corruption related offences should not have any option of fine.
”Most of us still remember the hue and cry that greeted the discretion a judge recently exercised in favour of imposing a fine of N750,000.00 on a culprit who had allegedly stolen money running in billions.”
Speaking further on administration of criminal justice in Nigeria, Auta said, “Corruption is the only reason that can explain the snail’s speed at which the administration of criminal justice is moving in Nigeria and if it is not checked, it will be curtains for judicial growth in Nigeria.”
Also, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Aminu Tambuwal observed that “ as a country we need to pay more attention to our laws particularly those pertaining to the system of criminal justice administration.
”This is because it is impossible to have a sound economy without a solid foundation of good laws that can curb anti-social behaviours and other disruptive tendencies.
”As we develop plans and strategies for the economic and other forms of reforms, we also need to develop plans and programmes for creating sound laws and procedural systems consistent with our commitment with our Legislative Agenda.
”Even though these are part of the intangible but important infrastructure which would attract investors to come and do business with us. It is a great disservice to our country when our criminal justice system is perceived as inefficient and incapable of punishing wrong doing.”
The Chief Judge of Nigeria, CJN Justice Miriam Alooma Muktar, represented by Justice Kumai Akkas said, “the administration of Criminal Justice Bill is a proposal for any Act to make provision for speedy and efficient administration of Criminal Justice in courts. T’he problems besetting procurement of Justice in Nigeria are multifarious and multi-dimensional.
“They range from too many cases in courts to trial delays and denial of justice, inadequacy of judicial personnel, corruption, lack of modern management technology and absence of case management techniques.”
In his welcome remarks, Chairman of House Committee on Justice Hon Ahmad Ali said “the bill has gone through much scrutiny, and the administration contains several innovative and creative ideas. When passed, it will significantly improve our Criminal Justice system.”
He explained further that the bill deals fundamentally with the problem of delay in the dispensation of criminal justice.
In his remarks, Chairman Senate Committee on Justice, Judiciary and Human Rights, Senator Umar Dahiru said “the administration of Criminal Justice Law will compliment beautifully the Freedom of Information Act 2011, Evidence Act Commission Amendment Act 2011, the Legal Aid Reform Act 2011, the National Human Rights Commission Amendment Act 2011 and other justice sector reform laws which were all enacted by the 6th National Assembly.
In his memorandum to the House, Chairman National Human Rights Commission, Chidi Odinkalu pointed out that the myriads of perennial problems beset Nigeria,s criminal justice system and many of these are located in the history and origins of the nation’s criminal laws and procedures, founded as they were in the precolonial era and entrenched during colonial and military rules.
”Against this background, the bill now under consideration contains many admirable and forward looking proposals. These include provisions articulating clear objectives for the Criminal Justice system for prohibition of arrest of family member in lieu of suspect, the humane treatment of arrested persons, proper inventorisation of arrested persons, digital recordings of confessional statements, establishment of Central Criminal records for remand, prohibitinng stay of procceedings until after judgment, speedy day-to-day trials, regulation of plea bargaining, protection of the pregnant convicts from capital punishment, provision of sentencing guidelines and alternatives to implement as well as any administration of Criminal justice Monitoring Committee to monitor the proposed reforms” he added.