We ‘ll review plea bargain — Delegates

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BY LEVINUS   NWABUGHIOGU

THE concept of plea bargain in the Nigerian Judicial system might be expunged from the criminal justice system or at best reviewed to adequately punish persons who run foul of the law.
This is the position of the National Conference Committee on Law and Judiciary.

The matter dominated discussions of the committee, yesterday when it deliberated on “Law and Order.”
Members however got divided on whether the present status quo should be maintained or expunged from the legal system.

While some said the concept favours the rich, who get soft landing after stealing huge sums of money others submitted that it subjects the ordinary Nigerian who had stolen a negligible item like a mobile phone or a goat to more years of imprisonment thereby creating an impression of injustice.

Speaking to Vanguard, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN), a member of the committee, said the position of the committee would be to review the law to accommodate everyone.

He said: “It is not plea bargain that is the problem. It is abuse of the use of plea bargain, more importantly, because it is limited and applicable to issues involving the rich and powerful members of the society whereas the ordinary people who run foul of the law are not entitled to such practice. It is a special arrangement for now. It is for the rich to have some sort of soft landing and this why the public is totally opposed to it.

“Ordinarily, because of the enormous cost of prosecuting a case, the state or the court would want to feel compelled to temper justice with mercy if an accused person comes forward to say I want to change my plea from no guilty to guilty. I want to save the time of the court. I don’t want to waste the resources of the state.

Any Judge would want to be lenient but the problem in our own system is that when a big guy in town steals billions of Naira, he is charged for money laundering by the EFCC. Meanwhile, before you launder the money, you would have stolen it. So if you committed stealing, which attracts seven years imprisonment, you simply brush that aside and charge him with money laundering which sentence is two years. In the same environment, a man who has stolen a goat is charged with stealing, he is not entitled to plea bargain and if convicted, he is sentenced to seven years imprisonment. No society can allow that for two long.”

Similarly, retired Justice Abdulahi Mustapha said, “it is the abuse that we should abolish. I am not in support of the idea of abolishing plea bargain. It has been in the United States for years.”

In her own contribution, Benue State delegate, Dr. Duru Magdalene, disagreed, saying she would keep on pushing for the abolition of the concept. Reason: Plea bargaining is more than armed robbery because these people who have stolen billions may have killed many people. This whole idea of plea bargain should be taken away. It shouldn’t be in the constitution.”

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