Godwin Tsa, Abuja
The Corruption and Financial Crime Cases Trial Monitoring Committee (COTRIMCO) of the National Judicial Council has identified poor prosecution and multiplicity of charges, among others, as some of the factors that militate against speedy disposal of corruption cases.
Other factors listed by the panel include absence of counsels for parties in court; reliance on irrelevant documentary evidence; non-adherence to court rules and procedures; retirement and transfer of judges; re-assignment of cases to start de-novo; amendment of charges after commencement of trial and cumbersome record transmission process to the Court of Appeal.
These were contained in an Interim Report presented by the Chairman of the committee, Justice Suleiman Galadima (retd), at the 86th NJC meeting.
According to a statement by the Director of Information, National Judicial Council (NJC), Soji Oye, the committee distilled the issues from its findings from discussions with Heads of Courts and observations made from the surprise visits of the members to courts handling corruption and financial crime cases in some parts of country.
On poor prosecution, the committee observed that offenders are charged to court before proper investigation of the charges and, afterwards, expect the court to detain such alleged offenders till conclusion of their investigation.
The committee also identified inadequate prosecuting personnel at the prosecution agencies to the effect that some prosecutors lack the requisite experience to prosecute corruption cases, which invariably leads to poor handling of such cases.
COTRIMCO further blamed the delay on lack of commitment on the part of some prosecutors and collusion between them and defence counsels to pervert justice either by stalling the trials of cases or achieving pre-determined results.
The panel also observed that there is no threshold to the number of witnesses the prosecution calls; inadequate funding of prosecution agencies to carry out thorough investigation of the corruption cases, with attendant low quality prosecution cases and frequent requests for adjournment by the prosecutors.
In the area of duplication of charges, the committee submitted that the prosecution, in most cases, duplicate charges, which could be up to 170 against a defendant, but, at the end, are unable to substantiate them, leading to the discharge of such defendant.
On multiplicity of charges, the committee also observed the issue of multiplicity of cases involving the same defendants and, on similar subject matters going on in different courts at the same time.
This particular factor, according to the committee, makes it impossible for some trials to proceed.
In spite of the fact that the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) 2015, provides for day-to-day trials of criminal cases, a defendant, who is undergoing trial in other courts, is always unavailable for trial.
On the part of the court, the committee identified retirement/transfer of judges handling such cases and noted that when this happens, such cases, which may have gone far, are re-assigned to another judge to start de-novo.
The panel also said the prisons, on its part, contributes to the delay by failing to remind the court of subsisting orders to reproduce suspects in court and, most times, lack means to convey awaiting trials to the court.
For the speedy trial of corruption cases, the committee recommended the importance of proper training for prosecution in the area of investigation, especially in ACJA.
The committee also recommended the need for prosecuting agencies to have competent prosecution departments manned by qualified personnel; synergy between the various prosecution agencies to enhance proper prosecution of criminal cases; use of professionals, such as accountants, auditors, etc, to investigate high profile and complicated cases; need for training and re-training of court staff in handling criminal cases as well as proper funding for the Judiciary and prosecuting agencies.