Dele Igbinedion

Activist-lawyer Dele Igbinedion is the author of A Guide to Successful Human Rights Litigation – Vol. 1. In this article, he highlights the role of judges and magistrates in tackling unlawful detentions.

Section 34 (1) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015 which is applicable in Abuja, requires 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 once every month, conduct an inspection of police stations or other places of detention within his territorial jurisdiction other than the prison”.

Equivalent provisions to the above are also made in Section 34 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Law of Edo State 2016, and Section 35 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Law of Delta State 2017.

Subsection 4 of the said Section 34 of the Abuja ACJA and the Delta ACJL provides that “With respect to other Federal Government agencies authorised to make arrests, the Judge (of fhe High Court) having jurisdiction shall visit such detention facilities for the purpose provided in this section”.

 Powers of Magistrate/Judge during inspection

Further, Subsection (2) of the aforesaid Section 34 (or 35 depending on which state ACJL is in contemplation) empowers the inspecting Magistrate/Judge to summarily (a) call for and inspect records of arrests, (b) Direct the arraignment of the suspect, and (c) Where the detainee has been refused bail, the visiting Magistrate/Judge can grant bail to any suspect detained thereat, where appropriate.

Places to be inspected

It is noteworthy that the ACJA expects the inspection to be conducted at “police stations or other places of detention… other than the prison”.

Consequently, such places to be inspected will include Police Station(s) and other places of detention like (a) Directorate of State Security Detention Centres, (b) Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Cells, (c) Economic and Financial Crimes (EFCC) Cells, (d) Army, (e) Navy, (f) Air Force, (g) Vigilante Detention Facilities, (h) Neighbourhood Watch Facilities (if any), and, (i) Traditional palaces, etc. In fact, any place where Nigerians are routinely detained must arguably fall under the learned magistrates’/judges’ purview.

Reasons for the inspection

The purpose of the inspection is to:

(i) Ensure that no person will be detained illegally or even beyond the constitutionally prescribed period.

(ii) Curb brutality, inordinate arrests and detention, and

(iii) Ensure that persons who are denied bail receive it.

Magistrates/Judges’ responsibility

Arising from the above therefore, it can safely be predicted that the intention of the ACJA and the ACJL of States in Nigeria is to make their Magistrates and Judges, ultimately, responsible for ensuring that no one is detained unlawfully anywhere in Nigeria.

Hence, the imperative for regular visits which must be “at least once every month”.

The corollary, therefore, is (and I submit most respectfully) that a Magistrate or Judge having jurisdiction in an area will therefore be accountable (along with the detaining authority) for unlawful detentions in any facility due to the failure of a particular magistrate or Judge to perform his duty.

Compliance Report

My enquiries from lawyers and Court Staff in various Magisterial Districts and Judicial Divisions in FCT and some states  that  have domesticated the ACJL reveal that since the above mentioned mandatory provisions of the ACJL came into effect, learned magistrates and judges have not been performing their inspection duties over places of detention.

The net effect of the aforesaid is that unlawful and elongated detentions of citizens continue unabated and unchecked.

Although the reason for the magistrates’/judges’ non-compliance is not clear to us, but most of the court registrars that we spoke with seemed totally unaware of the inspection obligations of magistrates/judges. It may, therefore, be that the Judges and Magistrates are unaware of the obligation.

But the ACJA and the ACJL makes no provision excusing any particular Magistrate or Judge from failing to perform the inspection duty.

It is, therefore, my submission, nay, persuasion that all lawyers and executives of various branches of the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) must explore all strategies to ensure that  Magistrates and Judges perform their duties in this regard.

Where there is dereliction of duty, then the appropriate sanction procedure should be courageously ignited.

This is because a judicial officer’s failure to perform his duty will have serious implications for the rights of detainees.

The price of liberty is perpetual vigilance, someone once said. We should all therefore be vigilant.

The challenge of learning and knowing the law (A digression)

Truth be said: It takes a lot to be a practicing lawyer or shall we more appropriately say: Legal Practitioner. One lifetime is not enough to study the laws and procedure and master them to become a skilled advocate. This is probably why the consummate lawyer is born as one, not just made so on earth. They are congenitally equipped and gifted with the innate skills of lawyering.

Not everyone can or should be a practising lawyer. So, typically, some non-lawyer characters find their way into the echelons of the profession. But the profession sooner than later separates its stars from the other dark mass of elements, thus giving rise to the saying that many are called, but only few are chosen – as lawyers. The stars are the successful lawyers.

So, how can one be a successful lawyer? Well, you have to know a lot of things about a lot of things. You must know the law on the area of your practice and the procedure for enforcing the law relating to your area of practice. Then you must know other laws (in fact, all other laws) which will affect your client’s case, like limitation laws. You must also know rules, local customs, likes and dislikes of the Judge, etc. All these relate to trial courts.

Then you must know Appellate Practice and Procedure. This relates to handling cases on appeal. When, Where and How to file notices of appeal, identify issues of law, write Briefs of Argument, reply briefs, respondent’s Notice(s), cross appeals, etc. At this level, you have to persuade at least two Judges, out of Three, in the Court of Appeal, to win your case.

Then at the Supreme Court, you must persuade at least Three, out of Five, for ordinary appeals. But if your client’s appeal relates to a constitutional matter, the Chief Justice of the Federation will empanel Seven Justices to hear the appeal, and you must persuade at least Four of them for you to win the case.

This is where all your skills are tested. Yes, at the Supreme Court. There, the argument is before Justices. Not just Judges, but Justices. Well, Judges are great people who know the law. But Justices? They are the law themselves. They are lady or gentleman justice or justices. Whatever they say, is justice. There is no other Court of Appeal in Nigeria, after the Supreme Court. Except you want to go to the Ecowas Court. But that is a different matter.

It is little wonder therefore that only few make it to the dizzying top of the profession. But for those who get to the commanding heights, it is like living in wonderland. Everything is at their beck and call. They have the president, governors, First Class traditional rulers, business moguls, Mega Pastors, on speed dial. Inevitably, they become the toast, and envy of others.

For instance, Mr. Ibrahim Magu, the Acting Chairman of the Nigerian Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), recently lamented (while green with envy, if I may add) how a senior lawyer was paid N1.7billion as professional fees for a criminal case. Yes! One criminal case.

He stated that another lawyer collected N300million as professional fees from one state government. Such fees are chicken change for the creme de la creme of lawyers, most of whom will not get out of bed to do a case unless the take home is mouth-watering.

But that really is all that people see. I mean, the perquisites of success. The money. The commanding oratory. The fine silk gown. The suits. The private jets. The sleek black jeeps. The fine girls that carry files. The genuflection from other lawyers. The front row seats. But that is not all.

What about the long hours behind the desk? The interminable meetings and strategy sessions? The thousands of seconds and hours spent poring over law books searching for relevant case law?

What about the time spent worrying about that threat against him for taking that case, or the other more worrisome concern about spiritual warfare? Or the precious time spent away from the children or wives?

These are all part of learning (and knowing) the law!

Culled from Thenation

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