A recent ruling by the nation’s apex court, which upheld the provisions of Section 306 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act and Section 40 of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (Establishment) Act, prohibiting courts in the country from granting stay of proceedings in criminal trials is clearly a landmark decision.
A five-man panel of the Supreme Court led by Justice Dattijo Muhammed, in a unanimous ruling delivered penultimate Friday, had contended that by virtue of the provisions of both laws, no court in the country, including the Supreme Court, had the power to stay proceedings in a criminal case. Other members of the panel were Justices Muhammad, Justice Kudirat Kekere-Ekun, Ejembi Eko and Sidi Bage. They all agreed with the lead ruling.
On whether or not the two provisions – Section 306 of ACJA and Section 40 of the EFCC Act – prohibiting courts from staying proceedings in a criminal trial contravene the constitutional right to appeal by persons charged with offences, Justice Clara Ogunbiyi, who delivered the lead ruling, held that the provisions of both laws do not contravene the constitution.
She, however, held that both provisions are in agreement with Section 36(4) of the constitution, which provides that any person charged with a criminal offence “shall be entitled to fair hearing in public within a reasonable time”. It is only logical, she reckoned, that to interpret the spirit of the foregoing constitutional provisions to translate that, where the grant of an application for stay will unnecessarily delay and prolong the proceedings, it should not be granted.
For those with criminal cases in various courts of the land, the days of mischievous use of technical delays of cases appear over. They must fasten their seat belts and learn to work diligently on cases when the opportunity for fair hearing avails itself. It is definitely a good development as the abuse of court processes has already become a norm. Perhaps, this decision will send an even stronger message.