…recommends deployment of more Judges to handle corruption cases
By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA – The Corruption and Financial Crime Cases Trial Monitoring Committee, COTRIMCO, has submitted its interim report to the National Judicial Council, NJC, indicting all the prosecuting agencies, Courts and the Nigerian Prison Service for contributing to delay in trial of alleged looters.
The Committee which is chaired by a retired Justice of the Supreme Court, Justice Suleiman Galadima, further recommended the deployment of more Judges to handle corruption cases.
A statement by the Director of Information at the NJC, Mr. Soji Oye, on Sunday, disclosed that COTRIMCO tendered the report at the 86th meeting of the Council.
In the report, the Committee identified poor prosecution, absence of counsel for parties in Court, reliance on irrelevant documentary evidence, multiplicity of charges, non-adherence to Court rules\procedures, retirement\transfer of Judges, as well as re-assignment of cases to start de-novo, among factors that have been stalling all the pending high-profile corruption cases.
It maintained that other factors militating against speedy disposal of corruption cases included incessant amendment of charges after commencement of trial, and cumbersome record transmission process to Court of Appeal.
“The Committee distilled the issues from its findings from discussions with Heads of Courts and observations made from the surprise visits of the Members to Courts handling corruption and financial crime cases in some parts of Country.
“On the part of the prosecution, the Committee observed the following:- That offenders are charged to Court before proper investigations of the charges are done, and afterwards, expecting the Court to detain such alleged offenders till conclusion of their investigation;
“Inadequate prosecuting personnel at the prosecution Agencies; that some prosecutors lack the requisite experience to prosecute corruption cases, which invariably leads to poor handling of such cases; lack of commitment on the part of some prosecutors and collusion between them and defence counsel to pervert justice either by stalling the trials of cases or achieving pre-determined results.
“That there is no threshold to the number of witnesses the prosecution calls; inadequate funding of prosecution Agencies to carry out thorough investigation of the corruption cases with attendant low quality prosecution cases; and frequent requests for adjournment by the Prosecutors”, the statement added.
Besides, the Committee was said to have observed that the prosecution in most cases, duplicate charges which could be up to 170 counts against a Defendant, but at the end, are unable to substantiate them, leading to the discharge of such Defendant.
“The Committee also observed the issue of multiplicity of cases involving the same Defendants, and on similar subject matters going on in different Courts at the same time. This particular factor makes it impossible for some trials to proceed. In spite of the fact that the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) 2015, provides for day-to-day trials of Criminal Cases, a Defendant who is undergoing trial in other Courts is always unavailable for trial”.
It equally pin-pointed the absence of parties in court as a major factor delaying criminal justice administration, “as cases are mostly adjourned when parties are absent in Court”.
Other factor the Committee blamed for constant delay of cases are reliance on extra judicial statement by prosecutors.
It noted that where the defence challenges the voluntariness of a confessional statement, the Judge has to order a trial-within-trial to determine the voluntariness of the confession, thereby causing delay.
“The Committee submitted that both the defence and prosecution are often culpable by relying on irrelevant evidence they would not necessarily use thereby causing unnecessary delay”.
On the part of the Court, the Committee identified the following as contributing to the delay in quick dispensation of corruption cases:
“Retirement\transfer of Judges handling such cases. When this happens, such cases which may have gone far are re-assigned to another Judge to start de-novo;
“Granting of remand order by a Court without following up to ensure suspects are brought to Court; inadequate provision for proper record keeping and shelving of Court files and other relevant documents in some Courts; cumbersome process of transmission of records from trial Courts which impedes the early disposal of appeals; and difficulties associated with ascertaining addresses for service of process by Bailiffs”.
It decried that Prison on its part contributes to the delay by failing to remind Court of subsisting order to reproduce suspects in Court and most times lack means to convey awaiting trials to the law Court.
Consequently, it recommended proper training for prosecution agencies in the area of investigation, especially in the area of Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) 2015;
“There is need for prosecuting agencies to have competent prosecution departments manned by qualified personnel; Synergy between the various prosecution Agencies to enhance proper prosecution of criminal cases.
“Use of professionals, such as accountants, auditors, etc, to investigate high profile and complicated cases; Need for training and re-training of staff of Court handling criminal cases; Need to provide Judicial Officers with a Legal\Research Assistant to make their work easier.
“Proper funding for the Judiciary and prosecuting Agencies; Deployment of more Judges to handle designated corruption cases; Complete overhaul of both physical and technical infrastructures in designated Courts as some of them are small and not well ventilated; and need to come up with Practise Directions for corruption cases trial to cure anomalies in the trial of the cases”, were among recommendations the Committee proferred for quick determination of cases.
NJC said the Committee will continue to monitor corruption and criminal cases all over the country and also meet with stakeholders on the way forward.
It will be recalled that the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen had in response to concern expressed by Nigerians on the every slow speed with which corruption cases were being heard and disposed of by Courts, and the need to fast track the administration of Criminal Justice, directed Heads of Court to set up Special Courts to handle corruption cases.
He equally constituted the COTRIMCO with the mandate to monitor and regularly evaluate the progress and activities of courts designated to try corruption an financial/economic crime cases.
“Advise on Practice Directions for approval by the Chief Justice of Nigeria to be applicable in all such courts across the country with a view to eliminating procedural and administrative bottlenecks militating against speedy disposal of such cases.
“Advise on the trainings, re-trainings and other refresher programmes for Judges and staff of the designated courts aimed at enhancing their capacities to function effectively;
“Come up with an effective feedback mechanism from Heads of Courts to the Council on the activities and progress of cases before designated courts”.
Likewise to advise Council on the day-to-day strategies for the monitoring and evaluation of the performance of the designated courts and on strategies for improvement in performance.