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Group presents report on observation of ACJL in Lagos, Ondo, Abuja

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…says courts should ensure speedy trial of criminal and civil cases

THE Rule of Law and Empowerment Initiative (RLEI), a civil society organization says the courts should consider the intention of the Administration of Criminal Justice Law (ACJL) on “speedy trial and effective dispensation of justice” and exercise discretion on hearing parties and their representatives in courts.

The organization noted that the practice of persons with locus standi and their representative being the reasons for cases not attended to vitiates the intent of the law.

Barbara Maigari, Program Manager at the organization stated this in Lagos on Friday at the presentation of the findings of court observation on Administration of Criminal Justice Law (ACJL) observed in Ondo, Lagos states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Abuja between March and May, 2018.

According to Maigari, the organization, also known as Partners West Africa – Nigeria, carried out the exercise with the support of Mc Arthur Foundation as part of measures to enhancing transparency and accountability in the judicial sector project.

She said the exercise was also aimed at   observing the level of compliance to the Administration of Criminal Justice Act/Law, in FCT, ONDO and Lagos states.

“The goal of the project is to enhance integrity in the Nigerian Judicial system through court observation; promote implementation of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act/Law in the FCT, Lagos & Ondo States; enhance citizen’s participation in judicial processes and improve access to information on judicial proceedings with regards to compliance of the ACJL.

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We aim to achieve this through social accountability in the judicial sector.” Maigari said

In the report in which 65 court rooms were observed, findings revealed that 16 cases were the average number on the day’s cause list.

On average, 11 civil and 10 criminal cases were on the day’s cause list while of the number on the day’s cause list, eight were attended to amounting to 53 percent attendance to cases on day’s cause list.

The report also showed that in situations where cases were not attended to, the major reasons included “one or all the parties were not available” (63%) for High courts and (84%) for Magistrate courts; “one or all the lawyers were not available” (71%) Magistrate courts and (67%) High Courts.

It indicated that service delivery and absence of files/exhibits were 20% of the reasons why cases were not attended to.

In the recommendations of the report, Maigari said criminal justice agencies should allow access to information in the promotion of the Freedom of Information Act which does not categorize most of the information in their custody as classified.

“The willingness of the Lagos State Judiciary on information disclosure to understand level of implementation of the ACJL, 2011 is a clear example other should emulate that will enhance access to justice.”

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She noted that Lagos State was the first state in Nigeria to pass the Administration of Criminal Justice Law; which made it a trail blazer in criminal justice reform sector.

In order to continue to blaze the trail, Maigari noted in the report that Lagos State Government needs to invest in building the capacity of the ACJL actors in the state particularly in relation to implementation of the law.

Other recommendations contained in the report were that Lagos State should establish its own Administration of Criminal Justice Monitoring Committee to ensure effective monitoring of implementation of the law since one of the unique manifestations of the ACJL is the opportunity for setting up a coordinating framework /platform.

The Executive and Legislature should endeavor to appropriate and provide the necessary wherewithal for procurement of equipment for interrogation processes for investigative agencies. The practice of non-presentation of video-recording of interrogation processes defeats the intent of the innovative criminal justice laws.

It argued that investigative and prosecutorial agencies when provided with tools for effective discharge of duties should use them with duty of care.

The Executive and Legislature should appropriate for witness expenses in the budget to the judiciary.

“When this is done, the Judiciary should provide a schedule for witness expenses in line with the requirements of the ACJL, 2015. This will allow for more information on what witness are entitled to.”

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