…CSLS Seeks Speedy Passage Of AJC Bill 2022 By The House of Representatives
…Administration of Criminal Justice Monitoring Committee Changed To Council Not Mere Semantics — Prof. Akinseye-George, SAN
Deji Adebayo, Abuja
The President of the Centre for Socio-Legal Studies (CSLS) Prof. Yemi Akinseye-George, SAN, has call on the House of Representatives to quickly pass the amended Administration of Criminal Justice Bill 2022 as done by the Senate.
Prof. Akinseye-George made this call during a press briefing at the CSLS office in Abuja on Monday, days after the Senate passed the ACJ Bill 2022 last week.
During the briefing, Akinseye-George noted that; “The renaming of the Administration of Criminal Justice Monitoring Committee as Administration of Criminal Justice Monitoring Council in the new ACJA when eventually passed is not mere semantics but to reposition the body to effectively discharge its responsibilities and be able to receive direct budgetary allocations”.
Below is the press briefing unedited:
TEXT OF AN ADDRESS BY PROF. YEMI AKINSEYE-GEORGE, SAN PRESENTED ON 12TH DEC. 2022 AT A MEDIA BRIEFING BY THE CENTRE FOR SOCIO-LEGAL STUDIES (CSLS) ON THE PASSAGE OF THE ADMINISTRATION OF CRIMINAL JUSTICE (ACJ) BILL 2022
I’m delighted to welcome you our dear friends of the 4th Estate of the Realm, to this Media Briefing. Once again we salute the judicial correspondents and the various media houses here present.
The main purpose of this briefing is to call the attention of the public, particularly the stakeholders of criminal justice, to the passage by the Senate of the Federal Republic, of the Administration of Criminal Justice Bill, 2022, an improvement on the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015.
The Centre for Socio-Legal Studies (CSLS) commends the leadership of the Senate and the distinguished Senators for their commitment to justice sector reform in general and to the strengthening of the criminal procedure system in particular. By passing the ACJ Bill 2022 which contains several innovative provisions the distinguished Senators have made clear their strong determination and political will to consolidate the country’s democracy by strengthening the system of criminal justice administration which is one of the major instruments for promoting accountability and rectitude in the country.
Main improvements in the ACJ Bill 2022
It is necessary to highlight some of the major innovations contained in the 2022 ACJ Bill. These include but not limited to:
- Express abolition of the practice of Trial within Trial which delays criminal proceedings.
This procedure, when the new Act is passed, will now be combined with the main trial rather than conducting a separate Trial-within-Trial. This brings the Federal ACJA in tandem with that of Kaduna State, Plateau State and others that have merged Trial-within-Trial with the main proceedings in the criminal trial. The Court of Appeal has endorsed this new approach in Muoneke v. The State. Hopefully the Supreme Court will uphold this innovative approach.
- Continuation of Hearing when a trial judge dies, is transferred or posted or otherwise unable to continue with a trial.
This is to avoid trial de novo where a judge handling criminal case is, due to one reason or the other unable to continue with the trial. Clause 104(3), ACJ Bill, 2022 provides that “Where a Judge or Magistrate has taken cognisance of a criminal matter in one division or district of the court and having started to hear evidence he was subsequently transferred or posted to another division or district of the court, such Judge or Magistrate shall continue to hear the case whether in the previous division or district or in the new division or district depending on which division or district is the most convenient having regard to the prevailing circumstances”.
- Establishment of Sex Offender Register in the FCT
Clause 236(1) establishes the Sex Offender Register in the FCT and Clause 236(2) provides that “Upon the conviction of a sex offender, the offender’s particulars shall be entered into the Sex Offenders Registry, which shall be published and kept in the public domain.”
- Filing of defence witness deposition
Clause 380(6) mandates the defence to file witness deposition to promote speedy trial of criminal cases.
- Recording of demeanour of witnesses
When passed, ACJA 2022 makes it mandatory for a trial judge to make notes or such remarks as he thinks material relating to the demeanour of a witness during examination, cross examination and re-examination. The aim of this innovation is also to avoid trial de novo when a judge takes over a criminal trial previously conducted by another judge.
- Dispensation to a Justice of the Court of Appeal to conclude part-heard criminal matter
Although the original section 396(7) of ACJA 2015 was struck down by the Supreme Court, this provision has now been amended, the offending paragraph was expunged to reflect the decision of the Supreme Court. See Clause 400 ACJ Bill, 2022.
- Introduction of Plea form which shall be served along with a criminal charge and filed in the court as the plea of the defendant. This will be adopted by the defendant during arraignment. It disposes of the viva voce reading of all the counts of Offences in the charge during arraignment in court. This will make arraignment of defendants faster and more sensible particularly where the counts of offences charged are many.
- Furthermore, the Bill as passed by the Senate seeks to harmonize the provisions of non- custodial sentences with those of the Nigeria Correctional Service Act 2019. This recognizes the prime position of the Nigerian Correctional Service as the agency responsible for implementing non-custodial sentences in the country.
- The ACJ Bill 2022 corrects the defects observed by the courts in the Plea Bargaining Provisions of the ACJA 2015.
- Renaming of the Administration of Criminal Justice Monitoring Committee as a Council. This body currently known as the Administration of Criminal Justice Monitoring Committee but will be known as Administration of Criminal Justice Monitoring Council, when the new ACJA is eventually passed. The change in nomenclature is not mere semantics but to reposition the body to effectively discharge its responsibilities and be able to receive direct budgetary allocations.
Apart from the foregoing there are several other improvements proposed for incorporation in the seven-year old ACJA. However, the fundamental principles, and essential elements of the ACJA remain unchanged. These include abolition of stay of criminal proceedings; abolition of leave to prefer charge, abolition of holding charge, effective case management by trial courts, witness protection, abolition of lay prosecution, establishment of central criminal records registry, women as sureties, respect for the fair trial rights of defendants including the Miranda rights, sentencing guidelines, etc. All these and other key innovations, which endeared the ACJA 2015 to the stakeholders and development partners are retained by the ACJ Bill 2022.
The Centre for Socio-Legal Studies (CSLS) appeals to the House of Representatives to concur with the Red chamber, by speedily passing the AJC Bill 2022 which enjoyed the inputs from leading stakeholders like the Federal Ministry of Justice (FMoJ), the judiciary, Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies (NIALS), Council of Legal Education (CLE), Law teachers, ACJMC, civil society, ACJA Rangers and others.
We thank the leadership of the House of Representatives in advance for the anticipated speedy legislative action on the Bill.
We note the commitment of Hon. Onofiok Luke, a seasoned lawyer, reform-minded legislator, Chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Justice and reputable ACJA Ranger to ensure speedy attention to the ACJ Bill 2022.
We urge our friends in the Press to sustain the advocacy for the passage of the ACJ Bill 2022 before the exit of the current Administration in May 2023.
Thank you for your attention.