The Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015 (ACJA) seeks to revise our criminal law and the administration of the criminal justice system in particular. The Act exhibits important features some of which are hitherto unknown to the Nigerian criminal justice system but which are aimed at transforming the tedious and slow dispensation of criminal justice in Nigeria. The salient innovative provisions of the Act discussed below seek to foster transparency in the justice system and the speedy conclusion of criminal trials in Nigeria.
Abolition of Stay of Proceedings and Interlocutory Appeals
The provisions of Sections 306 and 396 of the Act abolished stay of proceedings in criminal trials which before now was a major reason for the delay in criminal proceedings both at the trial and appellate courts. This revolutionary intervention of the law was occasioned by the unending trials of all classes of persons accused of criminal offences
Recording of Statement of Suspect
Section 17 of the ACJA stipulates that where a person is arrested on allegation of having committed an offence, his statement may be taken in the presence of a legal practitioner of his choice, or where he has no legal practitioner of his choice, in the presence of an officer of the Legal Aid Council, official of a Civil Society Organisation, a Justice of the Peace or any other credible person of his choice. The legal practitioner or any other person mentioned in this provision shall not interfere while the suspect is making his statement.
Monthly report by Police to Supervising Magistrate
Section 28 of the ACJ Act provides that an officer in charge of a police station or an official in charge of an agency authorized to make an arrest shall on the last working day of every month report to the nearest Magistrate the cases of all suspects arrested with or without warrant within the limit of their respective stations or agency whether the suspect has been admitted to bail or not. Upon receipt, the magistrate is to forward the report to the Administration of Criminal Justice Monitoring Committee. The Committee shall analyse the report and advice the Attorney-General of the Federation as to the trends of arrests, bail and related matters. This provision is quite commendable as it will ensure a collective check on the activities of law enforcement agencies.
Quarterly Report of arrests to the Attorney-General of the Federation
Section 29 of the ACJA provides that the Inspector General Police, State Commissioners of Police and heads of every agency authorized by law to make arrest shall remit quarterly to the Attorney-General of the Federation a record of all arrests made in relation to federal offences or arrests within Nigeria. Such records are to contain the full particulars of the person arrested as prescribed in Section 15 of the Act. Section 29(5) also empowers the Attorney-General of the Federation to establish an electronic and manual database of all records of arrested persons at the Federal and State level.
Returns by Comptroller-General of Prisons
By virtue of Section 111 of the ACJA, the Comptroller-General of Prisons is to make returns every ninety days to the Chief Judge and the Attorney-General of the Federation of all persons awaiting trial held in custody for a period beyond 180 days from the date of arraignment. The returns shall be in a prescribed form and shall contain such information such as: (a) the name of the suspect held in custody or Awaiting Trial Persons, (b) passport photograph of the suspect; (c) the date(s) of his arraignment or remand; (d) the date(s) of his admission to custody; (e) the particulars of the offence with which he was charged, (f) the courts before which he was arraigned (g) name of the prosecuting agency, and (h) any other relevant information. Upon the receipt of such returns, the recipient shall take such steps as are necessary to address the issues raised in the return in furtherance of the objectives of the ACJA.
Right to Bail
Sections 30, 31, 32 and 158- 164 of the ACJA attempts a simplification of the right of an arrested person to bail. It permits an oral application in the trial of non-capital offences. The Act also made specific provisions as to bail where a person is charged with a capital offence. Such a person can only be admitted to bail by a High Court Judge under exceptional circumstances. Such circumstance may include: (a) ill health of the applicant which shall be confirmed and certified by a qualified medical practitioner employed in a Government hospital; (b) extraordinary delay in the investigation, arraignment and prosecution for a period exceeding one year; or (c) any other circumstances that the Judge may, in the particular facts of the case, consider exceptional.
However, while the ACJ Act is commendable for the innovations and for addressing some fundamental factors militating against the smooth and efficient dispensation of criminal justice in Nigeria, there may be reasons to suggest difficulty in the application of some of its provisions. The electronic recording of confessional statements is aimed at limiting the procurement of involuntary confessional statements from suspects. In practice however, one may not be very convinced that this may be a full proof method of obtaining confessional statements.
Funding, indiscipline and lack of independence of some of the key players in the justice system may also be major clogs in the smooth operation of the new Act. The Judiciary and the Nigeria Police are the major participants in the administration and dispensation of criminal justice. There may be an immediate need to review the number of appointed Judges, training of Judges, welfare package for Judicial officers and increased provision of facilities, as otherwise, the significance of the new legislation may not be immediately realised.
This writer suggests that adequate funding of the Judiciary and the Police, coupled with a transparent and independent Judiciary will do away with some of the implementation and funding problems mentioned above. Relevant institutions and their officers who are saddled with the effective implementation of the new legislation must also strive towards arriving at the intention of the legislature in providing an avenue for a speedy dispensation and conclusion of criminal trials in Nigeria.