Test for Appeal against Plea Bargain Judgment – Court of Appeal says Section 270(18) ACJA is Unconstitutional

A three-man panel of the court led by Justice Abdu Aboki struck down Section 270(18) of the ACJA for being unconstitutional.

Section 270(18) of the ACJA nullified by the court had prohibited filing an appeal against a judgment of the trial court that is based on plea bargain agreement.

But Justice Emmanuel Agim, who delivered the lead judgment of the Court of Appeal on May 22, 2020 held that the section of the ACJA contravened the provision of Section 241(1)(a) and (b) of the Constitution, which gave the appellant in the case the right of appeal.

He ruled, “I agree with the submission of learned counsel for the appellant that Section 270(18) of Administration of Criminal Justice Act takes away the right to appeal given by Section 241(1)(a) and (b) of the 1999 Constitution to the appellant to appeal as of right against the judgment convicting him consequent upon a plea agreement being a final decision in criminal proceedings before the trial high court sitting at first instance.

“By providing that no appeal shall lie in any court against such judgment except where fraud is alleged, Section 270 (18)of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act also ousts the general power vested in this court by Section 240 of the 1999 Constitution to hear and determine appeals from the trial court.”

The Court of Appeal’s judgment came two weeks after the Supreme Court, on May 8, 2020, struck down Section 396(7) of the law in a verdict, which nullified the trial and conviction of a former Governor of Abia State, Orji Kalu, for N7.1bn fraud.

The Supreme Court had in the judgment declared Section 396(7) of the ACJA unconstitutional and the trial based on it a nullity, on the grounds that Justice Mohammed Idris, who conducted the trial at the Federal High Court in Lagos, had already become a Justice of the Court of Appeal bench before handing down the judgment.

The Court of Appeal’s judgment appeal marked CA/A/767c/2019 was filed by a cybercrime convict, Chinaka Promise, on August 15, 2019, to challenge a judgment delivered by Justice Muawiyah Idris of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory High Court, which had sentenced him to four years’ imprisonment contrary to a plea bargain agreement he had with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.

The Court of Appeal nullified the judgment on the grounds that the trial judge rejected without giving valid reasons the plea bargain agreement, which exempted a jail term.

Justice Agim described plea bargain agreement as “a legal process of our criminal justice administration” which a trial court “is legally obligated not to reject unless it is contrary to public interest and the sentence recommended in the agreement would bring the administration of justice to disrepute.”

The Court of Appeal therefore set aside the sentence on each of the four counts.

Justice Agim ruled that the case ought to be remitted back to the trial court for the hearing of sentence proceedings afresh, but that it would not serve the interest of justice since the convict had already spent 10 months out of the four years jail term.

He sentenced the convict to nine months’ imprisonment and ordered his unconditional release.