From Godwin Tsa, Abuja
The Presidential Committee on Correctional Reforms and Decongestion in collaboration with the Federal Ministry of Justice on Monday effected the release of 15 inmates with minor offences with an option of fine at the Kuje Correctional Center, Abuja.
Already, their fines were paid by the committee and their releases were effected.
This came immediately after the launch of Kuje Virtual courtrooms by the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice (AGF), Abubakar Malami (SAN).
The AGF said the Virtual Court Sitting at the Kuje Correctional Center, Abuja is targeted at a speedy determination of cases by way of eliminating delays and displacement of denial of justice which will further support the government’s policy of decongestion of correctional centres across the country.
The minister was quick to clarify that “this virtual court hearing will not in any way contravene the provision of section 36(6) of the 1999 Constitution which provides for the arraignment, taking of evidence, tendering of documents, cross-examination and general conduct of criminal proceedings. In as much as these are done in accordance with the said provision, the virtual hearing would be valid.
Malami further added that the project was initiated to ensure the hearing and determination of urgent and time-bound cases, using the digital platform.
The AGF spoke on Monday at the launch of the Virtual Court Sitting facilities deployed here at the Kuje Correctional Centre for Virtual Court Sitting Proceedings.
He explained that the system would equally ensure speedy dispensation of trials in line with section 36(4) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended), which provides that every person shall be entitled to a fair hearing within a reasonable time.
“It would also eliminate the issue of difficulties in conveying the inmates to court and would further ensure the safety and security of the inmates and law enforcement officers.
According to the minister, “We are no longer constrained by mobility, space and time in the justice delivery on account of accommodation of the virtual court sitting facilities and deployment of incidental technology.
Notably, our justice system is founded on the constitutional principle of fundamental rights to fair hearing that requires the court to hear and determine cases in public and the physical presence of the suspects or parties in court.
I assure you that the Virtual Court Proceedings are in compliance with the provisions of section 36(3) of the Constitution, which provides for public court sitting or hearing. These Virtual Court Proceedings meet up with the expectation of the Constitution and are not private hearings but open to the respective counsel involved, the litigants (inmates) and the general public at large.
In addition, it is important to note that this virtual court hearing will not in any way contravene the provision of section 36(6) of the 1999 Constitution which provides for the arraignment, taking of evidence, tendering of documents, cross-examination and general conduct of criminal proceedings. In as much as these are done in accordance with the said provision, the virtual hearing would be valid.
This initiative will in no small measure help boost the economy by ensuring that funds meant for the movement of the inmates would be channelled to other essential areas of needs in the Correctional Centres and assist the country to meet up with global best practices in terms of the Administration of the Criminal Justice.
Also speaking at the event, the Minister of Interior, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola who hailed the AGF for the creative initiative, said the project will cut the cost of transportation, the time lost in transit and the often grave risks involved in moving suspects around will be cut altogether.
It means justice will be speeded for the accused and our dream of quick justice will soon be realised. This will further help with decongesting the custodial centres and reduce the pressure of insecurity, safety and health challenges associated with congestion.
I will urge the Ministry of Justice to extend this novelty to all the custodial centres in the country, with the special cooperation of state governments, since most offenders are state offenders being tried under state laws under state courts by state judges.
There are other things that are necessary to be done to aid speedy dispensation of justice and congestion of our custodial centres. The first is judicial reforms that will incorporate suspended sentences, home sentencing (for those who have the facilities) and community service for light offenders.
The second is the need to eliminate the adjournment tactics of lawyers, through which they deliberately prolong cases and subvert the course of justice. There should be a terminal date for the determination of a case, once it is opened. The counsel on both sides knew they have to do their homework well, once a case is opened and had a terminal date.
All these will require the proactive stance of the Ministry of Justice and it is my sincere hope that the Ministry will give them serious consideration.
There is also the need to appoint more judges, at the federal and state levels. Oftentimes, the delay in justice is due to judges having too many cases beyond their capacity to handle in a reasonable time.
Earlier in his speech, the Controller General Correctional, Halilu Nababa, expressed confidence that the project will enhance speedy access to justice and reposition the Correctional Service in line with standard global practice.
He said the target of the project, which is a pilot scheme to be replicated in other facilities nationwide, is to significantly address the perennial challenge of overcrowding in most of our urban facilities.
“Of significant note is the fact that Virtual Court Room Sessions will also drastically reduce the cost and danger of conveying awaiting trial persons to and from courts. These and much more, make this intervention unique and most desirable.
“I make bold to say that this kind of synergy and sense of commitment by all the key players in the Criminal Justice System, will certainly go a long way to guarantee quick dispensation of justice and respect for the rights of all citizens.
On this note, I wish to most sincerely appreciate Mr President for displaying great concern for the Nigerian Correctional Service (NCoS) through sustained funding thereby reinvigorating the Service for efficiency.
Our appreciation also goes to the Honorable Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, SAN for championing this great intervention and for taking particular interest in ameliorating the problem of overcrowding in Custodial Centres.
In the same vein, I wish to sincerely applaud the Presidential Committee on Correctional Reforms and Decongestion for their dedication to this onerous task of going around our Custodial Centres, expediting the justice process and advising the government on ways to improve our justice system.
Let me also appreciate the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) as well as the Government of Japan for the technical collaboration and funding support for the project.
Permit me to also express my sincere gratitude to the Minister of Interior, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, for his pragmatic leadership and commitment in canvassing for greater funding and general support for the Service.
As you are all aware, keeping felons out of circulation and providing them with the needed care and support to enable their reformation, rehabilitation and reintegration back to society is a herculean task.
Therefore, the Nigerian Correctional Service (NCoS), will continue to count on support from both state and non-state actors, to deliver on our mandate in line with the NCoS Act, 2019.