The Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) will, next month, launch guidelines for judges in the exercise of their discretion in sentencing and bail matters, the President of the association, Augustine Alegeh, has said.
Alegeh told Thenigerialawyer that the guidelines were inspired, among other things, by the exercise of discretion by Justice Abubakar Talba of an Abuja High Court in the 2013 case of the police pension fund offender, John Yakubu Yusuf.
Yusuf pleaded guilty to conspiring with six others to steal about N23 billion from the Police Pension Fund and was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment with an option of N250,000 as fine on each of the three counts, by Justice Talba.
He later paid N750,000 and walked home free
The NBA chief said the guidelines would help judges in deciding what an accused person deserves in cases where the law gives them wide latitude in sentencing.
“What we have done at the NBA is that we have prepared documents which we call ‘Sentencing guidelines’”, the NBA chief said. “We have also prepared another document called ‘Bail Guidelines’.
“We have these documents and sometime in October they will be released as the NBA’s position on how to deal with those matters.”
The NBA chief made reference to the practice in America where there are several criteria for determining the applicable punishment for different grades of the same offences
“In other countries, what they have done with judicial discretion is that they have restricted that discretion by having what is called Judges’ Guidelines,” Alegeh said.
“In the Florida Gun Laws for example, the punishment for owning a gun without a licence is different from the punishment for shooting that gun. And if you shoot the gun and the man is injured, the punishment to be applied by the judge is different than if the man is dead.”
He added that the NBA guidelines would toe similar lines.
“Our guidelines divide offences into different categories, such that even if the law says give a man a minimum jail term of six months, for offences between so and so you can give six months; for this gravity you can give 12 months. Guidelines on how the judge is to exercise that discretion.
“But if a judge can give you six months and six years, it is so wide. So, for us there are things we can do with our law.”
On the Police Pension Fund case, Alegeh said the NBA’s position remained the same, that the judge did not break any law.
“The judge in Abuja, with respect, we disagree with the exercise of his discretion, but there’s nothing in our law books that says what he did is wrong,” he said, “The only thing we need to do is to guide the exercise of that discretion.”
He continued: “And we have looked since that time and nothing has been done, so, we are going to release in October, the NBA’s position on sentencing guidelines and bail guidelines.”
Alegeh added that Nigerian courts of superior jurisdiction have since amended their prosecution guidelines.
He said: “You must also understand that the Federal High Court, the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court have both amended their rules of practice in respect of prosecution in cases of fraud, terrorism, kidnapping and the like. But we are not feeling the impact now because the cases that we hear of are the cases that were brought under the old rules.”