The Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) 2015 merges the Criminal Procedure Act (CPA), Criminal Procedure Northern State Act 2004 and Criminal Procedure Code (CPC) into one Federal Enactment which applies to all Federal Courts in the country. Apart from promoting efficient management of criminal justice institutions, the law protects the rights and interests of suspects, defendants and victims from illegal detention in several ways. ROBERT EGBE highlights 10 of such ways.
- Prohibition of arrest-in-lieu
Law enforcement agencies are sometimes accused of arresting friends and close relatives of suspects even when they are not linked in any alleged crime. The ACJA prohibits this. In sections 2 – 7 it sets out the procedure to follow when arrests are carried out by the police. Section 7, in particular, prohibits arrest in lieu. Thus, it is prohibited to arrest another person in place of a suspect.
Section 8 of the ACJA provides that a suspect shall be accorded humane treatment, having regard to his right to the dignity of his person and not be subjected to any form of torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.
It further provides in subsection 2 that a suspect shall not be arrested merely on a civil wrong or breach of contract.
This stipulation seems to be designed to curb malicious instigation of arrests, detention or prosecution of another as a result of a civil case or an infraction which does not constitute a criminal wrong.
- Recording of arrests
Section 15 (1) & (2) of the Act provides that the process of recording personal data of a suspect shall be concluded within a reasonable time of the arrest of the suspect, but not exceeding 48 hours. This is to prevent unreasonable pre-trial detention by the police and other law enforcement agencies.
- Quarterly Reports
Section 29 mandates the Inspector General of Police/Commissioner of Police and the head of every agency authorised by law to make arrests to remit quarterly records of all arrests made with or without warrant in relation to federal and state offences within Nigeria to the Attorney-General of the Federation or within the states to the Attorney-General of the State. The AG may, thus, seek an explanation where there’s reason to believe a suspect is being illegally detained.
- Release on Bail
Section 30 provides that where a suspect has been taken into police custody without a warrant for an offence other than an offence punishable with death, the officer in charge of a police station shall inquire into the case and release the suspect arrested on bail subject to subsection (2) of this section, and where it will not be practicable to bring the suspect before a court having jurisdiction with respect to the offence alleged, within twenty four hours after the arrest.
- Power to release on bail before Charge is accepted
Section 31 provides that where a suspect is taken into custody, and it appears to the officer that the inquiry into the case cannot be completed forthwith, he may discharge the suspect on his entering into a recognisance, with or without sureties for a reasonable amount, to appear at the police station and at such times as are named in their recognisance unless he previously receives a notice in writing from the police officer in charge of that police station that his attendance is not required.
- 7. Chief Magistrate’s visit to Police Station
Section 34 provides that the Chief Magistrate, or where there is no Chief Magistrate within the police division, any Magistrate designated by the Chief Judge for that purpose shall, at least every month, conduct an inspection of police stations or other places of detention within his territorial jurisdiction other than the prison.
Thus, the Chief Magistrate may enquire about suspects being unduly or illegally detained and facilitate their appearance in court.
- 8. Returns by Comptroller–General of Prisons
Section 111 provides that the Comptroller–General of Prisons is to make returns every 90 days to the Chief Judges, President of the National Industrial Court and the Attorney–General of the Federation of all persons awaiting trial held in custody for a period beyond one hundred and eighty days from the date of arraignment.
The returns shall be in a prescribed form and shall contain information including the name of the suspect held in custody or Awaiting Trial, the dates of his arraignment or remand, the date of his admission to custody, the particulars of the offence with which he was charged and any other relevant information.
Upon the receipt of such return, the recipient shall take such steps as are necessary to address the issues raised in the return in furtherance of the objectives of the Act.
- Women Sureties
Section 167(3) of the Act has cured the long defective practice where women were constantly denied the right to stand as sureties for the purpose of bail. Section 167 (3) provides that a person shall not be denied, prevented or restricted from entering into any recognisance or standing as surety for any defendant or applicant on the ground only that the person is a woman.
- Professional Bondsperson (surety)
Section 187 puts to rest the issue of professional Bondspersons or sureties in the criminal administration system. The section provides for the registration and use of Bondspersons and gives the Chief Judge the powers to make regulations for the registration and licensing of bondspersons.
The Bondspersons may undertake recognizance, act as surety, or guarantee the deposit of money as required by the bail condition of any person granted bail by the court within the jurisdiction in which the bondsperson is registered.
The Chief Judge is given the power to withdraw the registration of a bondsperson who contravenes the terms of his license. Where a bondsperson arrests a defendant or suspect who is absconding or whom he believes is trying to evade or avoid appearance in court he shall immediately hand him over to the nearest police station.
The defendant must be taken to the appropriate court within twelve hours of his arrest.