By Onozure Dania
The forgotten victims of crime are often children left behind, wives and aged parents in some cases. While the perpetrators of crime are prosecuted and jailed as the case may be, often, the families left behind, who are the victims of crime are not accorded any form of compensation.
In this report, we sought the views of lawyers on what should be the appropriate compensation for victims of crime.
John Odubela SAN
I believe the government should be able to give them monetary compensation depending on what they suffered from in the hands of their attackers. We must not forget that the government is bound to protect her citizens and their properties. So in the event that the government fails and citizens were attacked and suffered in the hands of their attackers, then the government should be able to compensate such victims.
Take, for example, some people kidnapped and later released after paying huge ransoms, I believe it’s a government that has failed in her responsibility and should be able to pay back to such victims the amount they parted within the course of negotiating their release.
The Nigerian criminal justice system has a lot of lacunas which the Administration of Criminal Justice Act or Law attempts to address some but not in totality. Compensation of victims of crimes is one of the previous lacunas in the old law Act addressed by ACJA or Law.
The law talks about restitution which is a good innovation in the administration of the criminal justice system. However, the appropriate compensation for the victim of crimes is not strictosenso mentioned in the law.
Therefore, what should be the appropriate compensation for the victims? The basis for the prosecution of criminal cases globally is to serve as a deterrent to others.
In that wise, compensation which is the major target of civil cases, victors do not apply in criminal cases.
It follows, therefore, that a person who commits armed robbery, tried and found guilty, to die by hanging, the victim of such a crime may not be compensated as the crime initiator has been sent off the society. Kidnapping, murder, treasonable offences in short capital offences. Meanwhile, on non-capital offences, it should be total compensation but how will it be enforced?
That is the other side of the lacunas in court criminal procedure. Nigeria has a long way to go in terms of this aspect of our laws.
Criminal law is not designed to be compensatory but penal. It is unlike civil law such as torts or contract where victims are either restored to their previous positions through the award of damages, restitution or other forms of compensation.
The main aim of criminal punishment is deterrence or correction. It is designed to either deter others from involving in a crime or correct persons from going into crime. Victims are compensated when appropriate penalties are meted out and served by convicts.
The compensatory effect of this on the victim is not quantifiable in monetary or material terms. It is rather a form of psycho-social appeasement to the society at large and to the victim in particular. No victim of crime can be compensated.
It all depends on the nature of the crime. There are species of crime that the victims may not be compensated but rather for the state to take its pound of flesh from the offender.
A very good example is a rape victim. The act has been done and as such the victim’s solace is in the state.
However, for offences such as stealing, obtaining by false pretence etc the Statutes in some states of the Federation such as Criminal Laws of Lagos State makes provision for restitution meaning that whatever is stolen from the victim is returned to the owner. Where such is not available, the law goes after the proceeds of the crime all in a bid to ensure that the victim is not worse off and that his/her loss is mitigated.
I think the appropriate thing is restitution. Return of whatever was taken from such a victim by the offender.
However, if such a crime happens and the government or it’s agencies is complacent, then adequate compensation geared towards restoring such victim to where he/she ought to be had the crime not taken place. But above all, there must be a system to run and insure a healing process.
Restitution or compensation for victims of crime as provided for in our statutes. Sections 296 and 297 of the Administration of Criminal justice law of Lagos state makes provisions for restitution.
However, a closer look at these sections will show that it only makes provision for restitution for property stolen. The question, therefore, is how do we compensate victims of robbery, stealing, battery, assault, rape, kidnapping etc? I think appropriate compensation in cases of these nature is to ensure fair and speedy trial and to ensure justice is done.
I will also suggest therapy section for victims of some of these violent crimes, because most times, victims suffer a lot of trauma which can lead to depression.
Adesola Abimbola, the Chairman, Nigeria Bar Association, NBA, Epe Branch
The only reasonable thing to do for victims of crime is compensation and immortalization. Like Rewane Road, Funsho Williams Road, pay the families so that they can be able to train the children and care for parents left behind if any.
Much as there are no hard, fast or iron-cast rules or principles in the judicial determination of appropriate compensations for victims of crime, the superstructure of indices for such victims’ appropriate compensation can be built on the foundation of such variables as the gravity of the crime perpetrated against the said victims; the existence of such aggravating, exculpating or extenuating circumstances surrounding commission of the crime(s) under judicial examination; the existence of demonstrable contrition on the part of the perpetrator(s); imperative of appropriately compensating the victim(s) for the deep laceration of body and feelings, making example of the perpetrator(s); absolute disapproval and abhorrence, by the court and society, of the reprehensible conduct leading to the quest for judicial order(s) for compensation; to make examples and send strong deterrent messages to the society, at large.
Significantly and commendably, some States, led by Lagos State, through the instrumentality of their various revolutionary Administration of Criminal Justice Laws, have appreciated and emphasized the great need for incorporation of appropriate compensations for victims of such crimes, upon, and in the process of, hearing and final determination of criminal charges brought against defendants, thus saving the victims the agonies of embarking on different and distinct litigations for award of appropriate compensatory, injunctive and related reliefs.
The rest States, missing in the benefits inherent in the templates obtainable in Lagos and other States referenced above, need to key into the said laudable templates, in the overall interests and benefits of such countless victims in dare needs of appropriate compensation.