By Jane Echewedo
The recent acts of criminality in Nigeria have again brought to the fore the need to review the criminal laws and statutes, especially as they affect the procedures in the law court and what the stakeholders need to do to ensure justice for all parties in criminal matters.
Worried by the trend, the Lagos State Government through the Ministry of Justice recently organised a workshop to review the Administration of Criminal Justice Laws, ACJL, of Lagos State to suit contemporary demands.
The workshop tagged: Appraisal of the Criminal Justice Regime in Lagos State: Proposal for Policy and Practice Changes, was organised with the support of the European Union, Rule of Law and Anti-Corruption, ROLAC, and British Council under the leadership of the outgoing Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Mr Adeniji Kazeem, SAN.
According to Mr Adeniji, the program was “aimed at reviewing and re-evaluating existing reforms in the Administration of Criminal Justice System in Lagos State.”
He said the steps became necessary “since the state has adopted a continuous process to ensure current trends are accommodated into our criminal procedural law to meet the needs of our people.”
The outgoing Attorney-General noted that with a constantly growing population in Lagos State, “ it is no surprise that our challenges are peculiar and therefore require a shift in mindset and a deliberate attempt to achieve and all-round reform.
“The workshop is unique because it serves as an opportunity to reflect on the innovative reforms introduced so far under the exemplary leadership of ex-Governor Akinwunmi Ambode whose passion for achieving a practical, effective and at same time, contemporary justice system was glaring.”
He explained that using the law for over a decade, it is apparent that certain provisions required attention while in other cases, the inclusion of key aspects of the law not already addressed, is considered.
He noted that the ACJL 2015 of Lagos State was first enacted in 2007, and an amendment concluded in 2011, adding: “the Law has tremendously assisted the criminal justice system not just in Lagos but in Nigeria. It has particularly been a pivotal tool in dealing with Defendants in the state and over 27 other states in the country which adopted similar laws.
“An example is the application of our innovative provision on stay of proceedings in criminal cases under section 273 which has been judicially interpreted by the Supreme Court in Olisa Metuh v Federal Republic of Nigeria. The section has been replicated by other states and most recently by the Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015. Prior to this provision, cases were deliberately stalled to delay criminal trials and deployed as a bar to concluding prosecution substantively.”
Adeniji said the step has no doubt enhanced better criminal justice delivery in many areas including time and cost-saving for the courts, the state and litigants.
Chiefly, the workshop which intend to review issues like plea bargain, arrest of family in lieu of offenders, adoption of court records by a new judge and the procedure for trying a child, has eminent lawyers including Mr Kemi Pinheiro, SAN, Mr Ebun Olu-Adegboruwa, Ms Titilayo Shitta-Bey, the DPP, Dr Akeem Bello of the Faculty of Law, University of Lagos and Mr Joseph Otteh as panelists while a Lagos High Court Judge, Justice Hakeem Oshodi chaired the occasion.
The speaker was Mr Rotimi Jacobs, SAN. Concluding his speech, the outgoing state chief law officer submitted that: “I must quickly mention that besides the court’s mandated diversionary or restorative processes, we should also consider limited instances where the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Police rather than clog the courts, in deserving cases, refer an offender to an appropriate government facility or home or rehabilitation center for necessary support.