Enugu State Justice Commissioner and Attorney-General, Mr. Miletus Eze, in this interview with KENNETH OFOMA speaks on the challenges facing the administration of criminal law in the state, prison decongestion, incentives for judges and judicial workers and varied issues
Scores of criminal cases are stuck in the court, how has Enugu state faired in the implementation of Administration of Criminal Justice Law in the state?
There is Administration of Criminal Justice Law in Enugu state; implementation has not been so smooth. This is because when the House of Assembly passed the law, it contained a provision that the Chief Judge will make rules that will be used in implementing the law.
That rule has been made but has not been made public; because it has not been made public, as the Attorney General, who is the chief law officer, I delayed the release of the Aministration of Criminal Justice law to the public because the rules which is a handmade for the implementation of the law was not available. And this is because if you have the law and you don’t have the rules you run into trouble when you are trying to implement it.
But because of pressure, the law that repealed the existing criminal procedure law and because the existing criminal procedure law was repealed, it becomes imperative that the Administration of Criminal Justice Law that replaced it should be operational immediately.
To that extent I yielded to the pressure and made it available for use. It is now being used but as I speak with you now, I have not gotten the rules made by the chief judge.
So, it is the actors, the judiciary and lawyers that come to court will know how to solve that riddle when it comes, but it doesn’t come too often; because of that they can still make use of it without any inhibition. But when the area where the use of the rules comes, they will enter into trouble. But I learnt that it has been printed but not yet in use, but very soon it will be in use.
So what are the benefits of the full implementation of that law?
If that law is implemented fully, it is going to reduce prison congestion. It will also speed up trial of accused persons. There is a provision in that law that if information is not filed in a case that requires information to be filed, by way of information I mean charge, it’s another name for charge in the High Court; if it is not filed, and the case comes up twice before a magistrate, the magistrate could strike out the case. Now that goes to make the trial of accused persons to be faster and indeed compels the office of the Attorney General and the DPP (Director of Public Prosecution) very speedily because if you don’t do it, it will be struck out.
But there are some problems we are encountering. These problems are; one, the police whose duty it is to arrest and prosecute cases, arrest the accused persons and prosecute cases, they have not come to terms with the provisions of administration of criminal justice law, which requires that as they are obtaining information from the witnesses or accused persons, those statements must be on oath so that at the time office of the Attorney General is filing information, he will be filing those statements along with the information and they will be on oath.
But because they (police) have not understood this innovation in the law they keep on bringing the analogue type of statements from the accused persons that was not made on oath.
And any attempt to tender the statement of an accused person will be met with opposition from the other side; yes it was not made on oath and therefore didn’t comply with the requirements of the law. So, unless the police start doing the correct thing, prosecution under the new law will continue to suffer.
What now becomes of the suspect’s statement in the circumstance?
The court will reject the statement that it was not made on oath; if it is rejected, at times it will be a confessional statement of an accused person, if it is rejected the likelihood of that person being set free is there. So, it is a serious problem, it is a challenge we are facing. I have directed the DPP to invite OC Legal of the Nigeria Police so that we have a seminar for their IPOs (Investigative Police Officers) so that they will now know that any accused person that is making a statement, such statement must be on oath. It is either after he must have made it, it will be taken to the magistrate’s court or notary public to notarize it, or as the person is making the statement, the notary public will be there to notarize it.
How would determine a statement on oath?
There should be some sentences that will make it to be an oath. ‘That I make this statement sincerely believing the content to be true…’ Signed by deponent, then the notary public will sign, because he will say ‘before me is Mr. so, so and so’. That is the procedure. There is also the challenge that before an accused person will be making a confessional statement, it will be video recorded. Which police station has that video to record statements made by accused persons? They don’t have it. It also provided that where an accused person is making a confessional statement, his lawyer if he has any must be there. Most often when the accused persons are making statements they have not contacted any lawyer.
Do accused persons in detention entitled to a lawyer? I mean, can such right be waived while making statement?
If they waive the right you can go on, but very often if they say they won’t waive it and the person is not there you can’t continue. You see the problem, and very often, they know that the thing will stall the entire thing; they will say that they are not waiving it. And investigation will be stalled.
What happens if an accused person cannot afford a lawyer?
If it is a capital offence, the state provides him with a lawyer. If it is a non-capital offence, they don’t provide a lawyer.
There is also a provision that makes it mandatory for magistrates to be visiting police stations from time to time to find out whether there is anybody there that had stayed beyond the requirements of the law, he has not been granted bail and has not been charged to court. That supervisory role is provided in there.
Is it being implemented?
The law itself is still being implemented newly but they have not gone to that level. There are so many other provisions in the law that will make the prisons to be decongested. There is a provision for parole. Parole simply means that if somebody is convicted of an offence, instead of sending him to jail, he is given an opportunity to leave, but if he repeats such a thing or any similar offence, he can be called back and be made to go and serve that sentence.
Do you share views by some magistrates that most states don’t have detention centres for juvenile offenders as what police do is to falsify offenders’ name in order to charge them to court and get them remanded in prison custody. Do we have juvenile facilities in Enugu state?
I don’t know what the police do but I do know that the police are handicapped in the sense that even at the police stations they don’t have separate cells and in prison they don’t have provision for juvenile. In fact, the law concerning juveniles does not give the prison authorities the authority to detain any juvenile, even if they have a place they can keep them. It’s a separate set of laws that guide them.
Whose responsibility is it to provide facility for juvenile—the state or federal government?
It is state and local governments. The Eastern Nigeria had one at the Hilltop, Ngwo, but the place has been in disuse leading to the buildings being let out to private individuals; one of them is being run as a school by the Catholic Church. But recently the Controller of Prisons, Enugu came to the State Executive Council meeting, asking that we release that place to them to enable them to refurbish the place and use it for keeping juveniles. The state executive council approved the release of that place to the prison authority to enable them refurbish and use it for keeping juveniles. But in the past they were contending that they own it, but they didn’t even know that they have no jurisdiction to own it.
As the bridge between the executive and the judiciary in the state, what has the relationship been like?
Yes, I’m the bridge and as that bridge I can tell you what we have for the judiciary in the state. If you go to Enugu state House of Assembly, if you approach their gate by the left you will see a gigantic structure that is springing up, being constructed for the Customary Court of Appeal.
They were left in this former High Court building that is now housing magistrate’s courts. That building was constructed during the colonial era. When the new High Court complex at Independence Layout was built, the High Court was relocated there, the Customary Court of Appeal started making use of the place they are now. But this administration has started Customary Court of Appeal complex that will have two court halls so that two panels of the Customary Court of Appeal can sit simultaneously.
Also, in the past whenever light went off, the entire High Court complex will go into darkness and every court adjourned because it was designed in such a manner, it was a Whiteman’s concept because they never expected that light will go off. But in our clime light goes off every now and then. So, they were suffering but this new administration has bought two sound proof generating sets that make the High Court complex enjoy regular light; one can conveniently say that they have a UPS system of energy supply. Immediately the public power supply goes off their own set is switched on immediately.
Also for the Customary Court of Appeal, sound proof generating set was also bought for them. The Customary Court of Appeal has only two panels unlike the High Court that has up to 14 judges sitting simultaneously in the High Court aside Chief Judge’s Court.
Also the state executive council has approved the purchase of generating sets for the homes of all the judges in the state, in their private homes- sound proof generating sets. The executive council has also approved the purchase of generating sets for nine courts in different judicial jurisdictions in the state, apart from the headquarters.
The state executive council has approved the furnishing of a newly constructed High Court at Awhum in Udi local government area. It’s a new High Court division yet to be inaugurated.
Also approval has been given for the construction of a model magistrate court building in each of the magisterial districts in Enugu state. I don’t want to go into other private conveniences of the judges like cars and others.
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