Sunday, 8 November 2015

ADMINISTRATION OF CRIMINAL JUSTICE: A GATEWAY TO
REFORMED CRIMINAL JUDICIAL SYSTEM

Introduction
Before i delve into the contents of the law i.e. Administration
of Criminal Justice Act, I would like to reinstate the
immediate need for this form of law in the nucleus of our
democratic system. This call has indeed become necessary
taking into perspective the deep drain of the common values
in our evolving democratic society. This law couldn’t have
come in a better period, a PERIOD OF CHANGE.

A change in the way we see government as a corrupt and
visionless form of institution. A change in the way we see
Judiciary as an institution of where it’s only the “Powerfuls”
that can bend the purport of the law to its own will and
intent and not as the last hope of the common man on the
street of Lagos like me. A change in the way we see the
legislature as an institution to earn jumbo salary allowance
while doing nothing and the only time they get strive hard to
get the attention of the public that wanted a responsible,
respectable representative in government, is when these
“responsible representatives” engage in public show of
disgrace by exchanging blows to the full glance of the
international world. A change in the way we the common
citizens begin the think of what good and important values
that can be contributed to our “Junior democracy” and not
habitually grump about an infrastructure decay that we
should be wholly held responsible for, an economy that’s only
robust and growing on paper, an electricity problem that’s
has married Nigeria since its inception, a government that
doesn’t put into cognizance the needs of its people until it is
that period where the people becomes its forgivable
messiahs. A change where we see ourselves as the MESSIAHS
OF THE TRUE CHANGE.

Enough of the change talks, lets delve into the content of the
Administration Criminal Justice Act 2015 (hereinafter
referred to as “ACJA” or Act). In Nigeria, Criminal procedure
is governed by two principal legislations inherited from the
British Colonial Administration; Criminal Procedure Act
(CPA) and Criminal Procedure Code (CPC). These laws have
been applied to our criminal procedural system without any
significant change. The main purpose of a criminal judicial
system is to reduce to a considerable minimum the upraise
in the criminal activities, prosecute and punish the minds
responsible for criminal acts and protect the mindless
citizenry and ensure that justice is earned in earnest. These
procedural laws have failed in its bearing to proffer
solutions to these dire needs of an effective Criminal judicial
system. Hence, the need for change in these procedural laws,
the Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015 was
conceived and passed into law as a parting gift of the
Jonathan’s administration on May 15, 2015. The ACJA did not
come into place as a dictator to displace existing framework
in the former procedural laws but as a democrat to fill up
existing loopholes, displaced old unnecessary sections and
introduced innovative sections to enhance the efficiency of
the criminal justice system. All the provisions of the Act are
driven towards ensuring that the administration of criminal
justice system are geared into efficient management of all
criminal justice institutions, speedy dispensation of justice,
protection of the rights and interests of both the victim and
the suspect.

The Act comprises of provisions on arrest; bail and
preventive justice; warrants, prevention of offences and
security for good behaviours; cases subsequent to order to
furnish security; public nuisance; attachment where a person
disobeys summons or warrant, criminal trials and inquires;
place of trial or inquiry, powers and controls of the Attorney-
General, various modes of instituting criminal proceedings;
enforcing appearance of suspect; issue, form and service of
summons; search warrants, bail and recognizance; property
and persons; charge- alteration or amendment; conviction;
previous acquittals or conviction, witnesses- compelling
attendance; taking attendance and taking of oath or making
of affirmation; expenses of witnesses; examination of
witnesses; plea bargain; persons of unsound mind; detention
time limits, presentation of case by prosecution and defence,
costs; compensation, damages, custody; disposal; restoration
of property; summary trial; provisions relating to sentence of
death; sentencing; deportation; child offenders; probation;
parole; the Administration of Criminal Justice Monitoring
committee; trial of corporation and appeals.

PURPOSE OF THE ACT
The purpose the Act is to ensure that the system of
administration of criminal justice in Nigeria promotes
efficient management of criminal justice institutions, speedy
dispensation of justice, protection of the society from crime
and protection of the rights and interests of the suspects, the
defendant and the victim.

APPLICATION OF THE ACT
The provision of the Act shall apply to criminal trials for
offences established by an Act of the National Assembly and
other offences punishable in the Federal Capital Territory,
Abuja and does not apply to court martial.

ARREST, BAIL AND PREVENTIVE JUSTICE
A suspect or defendant alleged with committing an offence
under the Act shall be arrested, investigated inquired into
and dealt with according to the provisions of the Act. In
making such an arrest, no unnecessary restraint shall be
carried out unless there’s reasonable apprehension of
violence or an attempt to escape has been made or by an
order of Court.
At the point of arrest, the suspect must be informed of his
constitutional rights of remaining silent, right to a legal
practitioner or free representation by the Legal Aid Council
of Nigeria where the suspect cannot afford legal
representation.
The Act also expressly prohibits the arrest of a person in
place of a suspect.
The Act restates the suspect’s constitutional rights to be
accorded humane treatment, not to be subjected to torture or
degrading treatment.
The Act makes it compulsory that the police officer making
the arrest or to whom a private person hands over the
suspect to record information about the arrested suspect and
an inventory of all items or property recovered from the
suspect within 48 hours. This inventory shall be duly signed
by the Police Officer and the arrested suspect. The Act
provides that where the arrested suspect does not sign the
inventory, it does not invalidate the inventory.
The Act does not make electronic recoding of confessional
statement compulsory but the Police Officer shall ensure that
the making and taking of the statement must be in writing
and may be recorded along with any audio visual means
available.
The Act established a Central Criminal Records Registry at the
Nigeria Police Force Command in every state which shall
keep all records. The State or Federal Capital Territory (FCT)
Police Command must ensure that the decisions in all
criminal trials are transmitted to the Central Criminal
Records Registry within 30 days of the judgment.
The Act places civic responsibility on citizens to arrest any
person found damaging public property.
The Inspector-General of Police and the head of every agency
authorized to make arrests shall remit quarterly to the
Attorney-General of the Federation a record of all arrests
made with or without warrant in relation to federal offences
within Nigeria. The Commissioner of Police of each state is
also expected to do same but the report is to be remitted to
the Attorney-General of the State in relation to state offences.
The Attorney-General of the Federation shall also establish an
electronic and manual database of all records of arrests at
the Federal and State level.
The Act empowers an officer in charge of the station to
inquire into a case without a warrant other than that
punishable with death and release the suspect on bail where
it would be impracticable to bring the suspect to Court within
24 hours.
The Officer in Charge of a police station shall on the last
working day of every working day of every month, report to
the nearest Magistrate the cases of all suspects arrested
without warrant within the limits of their respective stations
irrespective of whether bail has been granted or not. The
Magistrate shall in turn forward these reports to the Criminal
Justice Monitoring Committee which has the responsibility to
analyse the reports and advise the Attorney- General of the
Federation as to the trends of arrests. The Act mandates the
Chief Magistrate or any Magistrate designated by the Chief
Judge for that purpose, to conduct an inspection of police
stations or other places of detention within his territorial
jurisdiction other than the prison.

WARRANT
Unless a contrary is stated, a warrant issued under the Act
shall bear the date of the day of issue, contain all necessary
particulars and be signed by the Judge or Magistrate by
whom it is issued.

CRIMINAL TRIALS AND INQUIRES
The Act again reinforces the right of a person to make a
complaint against any person alleged to have committed or to
be committing an offence. A Police Officer may go ahead to
make a complaint even when the party aggrieved declines to
make a complaint. This form of compliant need not be in
writing unless its required to be so by the law and where it’s
not in writing the Court or Registrar shall reduce it into
writing.
The limitation period where no time is specifically stated for
making any complaint and if made when not in an official
capacity, shall be made within six years from the time when
the complaint arose.
A criminal charge shall be filed and tried in the division
where the alleged offence was committed unless it can be
shown that it’s convenient to do otherwise for security
reasons.
The Act empowers Chief Judge of a High Court to transfer any
case from one Court to another where it appears to him that
such would promote the ends of justice, or public peace.
However, this power shall not be exercised where the
prosecution has called witnesses. Where The Chief Judge is to
exercise this power in response to petition, the petition shall
be investigated by an independent body of not more than
three (3) reputable legal practitioners within one week of
such petition and a report shall be made within two (2)
weeks except otherwise specified. Again, this demonstrates
the need immediate dispensation of justice by the Act.

INSTIUTION OF PROCEEDINGS
The Act provides that a charge sheet filed by the prosecution
must be served on the defendant within seven (7) days of its
being filed or such time as may the Court may allow.
The Act makes it compulsory for trial to commence not later
than thirty (30) days from the date of filing the charge and
trial must be completed within reasonable time. The failure
of this to happen allows the Court to forward to the Chief
Judge the particulars of the charge and reasons for failure to
commence or complete trial within a reasonable time.
The Administration of Criminal Justice Monitoring Committee
has the power to consider all the returns made to the Chief
Judge for the purpose of ensuring expeditious disposal of
cases.
The Comptroller-General of Prisons shall make returns every
ninety (90) days to the Chief Judges of all Courts of records
and the Attorney- General of the Federation of all persons
awaiting trial in the Nigerian Prisons for a period beyond
One hundred and eighty (180) days from the date of
arraignment. Upon receipt of the returns, the recipient shall
take appropriate actions.

PROVISIONS ON PROCESS
The Act provides that where a Defendant is before a Court,
voluntarily or on summons, the trial of the Defendant may be
held notwithstanding any irregularity, defect or error in the
summons or warrant or for want of complainant on oath or
any irregularity in the arrest or custody of the Defendant.
Irregularities that can vitiate proceedings are where the
Court or Justice of Peace are not empowered by law to attach
and sell property under Section 80 of this Act, demand
security to keep the peace, demand security for good
behavior, discharges a person lawfully bound to be of good
behavior, cancels a bond to keep the peace, decides an
appeal.

BAIL AND RECOGNIZANCE
The Act recognizes the constitutional right to bail. The Act
provides that where a person is suspected to have committed
an offence he shall subject to the provisions of this Act be
entitled to bail.

PLEA BARGAIN
Under the Act, the prosecution may enter into plea bargain
with the defendant, with the consent of the victim during or
after the presentation of the evidence of the prosecution, but
before the presentation of the evidence of the defence. Plea
bargain may be allowed if the evidence of the prosecution is
insufficient to prove the offence charged beyond reasonable
doubt; where the defendant has agreed to return the
proceeds of the crime or make restitution to the victim or his
representative; or where the defendant, in a case of
conspiracy, has fully cooperated with the investigation and
prosecution of the crime by providing relevant information
for the successful prosecution of other offenders.

DETENTION TIME LIMITS
Where an order of remand of the suspect is made, the order
shall be for a period not exceeding fourteen (14) days in the
first instance, where an application for an extension is
brought for a further period, good cause must be shown, an
order for a further period of fourteen (14) days shall then be
granted. After the expiration of the second term of fourteen
(14) days, the Court may on application of the suspect grant
bail to the suspect in accordance to the provisions of the Act.
Where bail is not granted, the Court shall issue hearing
notice on the Inspector-General of Police and the Attorney-
General of the Federation or any relevant authority in whose
custody the suspect is remanded inquire to the position of the
case and for the Inspector-General of Police or the
Commissioner of Police why the suspect remanded should not
unconditionally released. Where good cause is shown, the
Court may extend for a final period of fourteen (14) days and
where good cause is not shown, the Court shall discharge the
suspect and the suspect shall be released immediately and no
application for remand shall further entertained.

PRESENTATION OF CASE BY PROSECUTION AND DEFENCE
Where a question arises as to the interpretation of the
Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and is
referred to the Court of Appeal, the Court may adjourn the
trial until the question is considered and decided; conclude
the trial and postpone the verdict until the question has been
considered and decided or conclude the trial and pass
sentence but suspend the execution until the question is
considered and decided. After the question has been decided
the Continue with its proceedings where it stopped.
The Act vehemently declines the application of stay of
proceedings in respect of criminal matters.

TRIALS
Trails shall be held in the High Court on information filed:
(a) by the Attorney-General of the Federation or by the
Attorney General of the State or a Law officer in the ministry
of justice; (c) by a Legal Officer of any prosecuting agency; (d)
by a private prosecutor; or (e) summarily. Trials shall be held
in the Magistrate Court or any other Court or tribunal
exercising criminal jurisdiction in accordance with the
provisions of this Act relating to summary trials. Where a
defendant charged before the Court is not represented by a
legal practitioner, the Court shall inform him/her of the
rights to a legal practitioner of his/her choice; and or a legal
practitioner engaged for him by way of legal aid.
To ensure speedy trial, objections shall not be taken or
entertained during proceedings or trial on the ground of an
imperfect or erroneous charge. After the plea has been taken,
any objection against the charge raised by the defendant
shall only be considered along with the substantive issues
and a ruling thereon made at the time of delivery of
judgment. Upon arraignment, the trial of the defendant shall
proceed from day-to-day until the conclusion of the trial.
Where day-to-day trial is impracticable after arraignment,
no party shall be entitled to more than five adjournments
from arraignment to final judgment provided that the
interval between each adjournment shall not exceed 14
working days. Where it is impracticable to conclude a
criminal proceeding after the parties have exhausted their
five adjournments each, the interval between one
adjournment to another shall not exceed seven days inclusive
of weekends. In all circumstances, the court may award
reasonable costs in order to discourage frivolous
adjournments.
No party is allowed to amend processes for more than five
times during trial. The elevation of a High Court Judge to the
Court of Appeal will no longer delay criminal trial as the
Judge shall have dispensation to continue to sit in the lower
court only for the purpose of concluding any part-heard
criminal matter pending before him/her at the time of the
elevation and shall conclude the same within a reasonable
time.

SUSPENDED SENTENCE
Where a defendant is charged before a court and the charge
is proved, the court may decide not to convict the defendant
having regard to:
(a) the character, antecedents, age, health, or mental
condition of the defendant,
(b) the trivial nature of the offence, or
(c) the extenuating circumstances under which the offence
was committed.
In the circumstance, the court may dismiss the charge or
discharge the defendant conditionally on his entering into a
recognizance to be of good behaviour and to appear at any
time within three years as may be specified in the order. The
court may, in addition, make order for the defendant to pay
damages for injury or compensation to the victim of the
crime and such costs of the proceedings as the court thinks
reasonable.

COMMUNITY SERVICE
Notwithstanding the provision of any law creating an
offence, where the court sees reason, the court may order
that the sentence it imposed on the convict be, with or
without conditions, suspended, in which case, the convict
shall not be required to serve the sentence in accordance
with the conditions of the suspension. The court may, with or
without conditions, sentence the convict to perform specified
service in his/her community or such community or place as
the court may direct. A convict shall not be sentenced to
suspended sentence or to community service for an offence
involving the use of arms, offensive weapon, sexual offences
or for an offence which the punishment exceeds
imprisonment for a term of three years.

PAROLE
Where the Comptroller-General of Prisons recommends to the
court that a prisoner: (a) sentenced and serving sentence in
prison is of good behaviour, and (b) has served at least one-
third of the prison term of at least 15 years or life
imprisonment, the court may, after hearing the prosecution
and the prisoner or legal representative, order that the
remaining term of the imprisonment be suspended, with or
without conditions, as the court considers fit, and the
prisoner shall be released from prison on the order. A
prisoner who is so released shall undergo a rehabilitation
programme in a government facility or any other
appropriate facility to enable him to be properly reintegrated
to the society. This is the body of the Act that encourages
restorative justice.

THE ADMINISTRATION OF CRIMINAL JUSTICE MONITORING
COMMITTEE
The Act established the Committee which is charged with the
supreme responsibility of ensuring effective and efficient
application of this Act by the relevant agencies. This
Committee shall ensure that criminal matters are speedily
dealt with; congestion of criminal cases in Courts is
drastically reduced; congestion in prisons is reduced to the
barest minimum; persons awaiting trial are, as far as
possible, not detained in prison custody; the relationship
between the organs charged with the responsibility for all
aspects of the administration of justice is cordial and there
exists maximum co-operation amongst the organs in the
administration of justice in Nigeria; submit quarterly report
to the Chief Justice of Nigeria to keep abreast of
developments towards improved criminal justice delivery
and for necessary actions to be taken; and carry out such
other activities as are necessary for the effective and
efficient administration of criminal justice.

CONCLUSION
There’s no doubt if the provisions of Administration of
Criminal Justice Act 2015 are fully implemented the reforms
intended to bring into the Criminal Judicial System would be
fully achieved and sanity would be restored fully in the
system. The Act could not have come at a better time and the
Act is a timely intervention that is really and truly needed to
curb the excesses in the criminal judicial system.
One of the standard improvements brought about generally
by the ACJA is that serious effort was made to strengthen the
rights of the defendant and reduce delays in the criminal
process. Though most of these rights had existed before now,
the ACJA 2015 has added emphasis to them and has also
ironed out a lot of grey areas that had been long overdue for
change. With the passage of this Act, the Criminal Procedure
Act (CPA), Criminal Procedure Code (CPC) and the
Administration of Justice Commission Act stand repealed.
However, as perfect as the provisions of the Act may seem it
still requires the budgetary allocation and funding by the
Federal Government in order to fully achieve the purpose of
the Act. The government still needs to embark on various
sensitization programmes in order to inform the various law
enforcement agencies, the citizenry about the rights and
interests protected in the new Act.

Article written by Olayinka Teslim Sunmola (Jnr.)
Attorney & Public Commentator.

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