Femi Falana (SAN)

A Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Mr. Femi Falana, has described as epochal the judgment of the Supreme Court upholding Section 306 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015, which outlawed stay of proceedings in criminal trials.

The outspoken human rights lawyer took a swipe at some senior lawyers, including a former President of the Nigerian Bar Association, Mr. Joseph Daudu (SAN), who openly criticised the Supreme Court’s judgment at a recent event in Abuja.

According to Falana, who spoke last week at a civil society roundtable discussion organised by Human and Environmental Development Agenda in Lagos, the rich, who had hitherto used stay of proceedings to frustrate their criminal trials, have now begun to fight back, seeing that they could no longer manipulate the court.

The HEDA roundtable discussion centred on the challenges of the ACJA and the abolition of stay of proceedings in criminal trials.

Falana spoke alongside Messrs Rotimi Jacobs (SAN), Monday Ubani and Jiti Ogunye at the discussion chaired by Dr. Biola Akiode-Afolabi.

The Chairman of HEDA, Mr. Olanrewaju Suraju, in his welcome address, noted that the roundtable discussion became necessary to counter the opposition to the ACJA.

Falana, who was the lead speaker, noted that Section 40 of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commissions Act had even outlawed stay of proceedings before the advent of the ACJA in 2015, adding that it was good that the Supreme Court had finally upheld it.

He said, “In spite of the clear provisions of Section 306 of the ACJA, the Supreme Court granted a stay of proceedings in the case of Bukola Saraki and the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The Supreme Court said stay the proceedings in the Code of Conduct Tribunal and we came out to challenge the judgment of the Supreme Court vis-a-vis Section 306 of ACJA.

“Of course, these lawyers roared; one of them roared like a lion – JB Daudu – and threatened to jail me for contempt and for having the temerity to criticise the judgment of the Supreme Court. But I dared him because I wanted to use the criminal proceedings to expose the enemies of our criminal justice system. For reasons best known to him, he left me alone.

“Curiously, the same people who said it was contemptuous to criticise the Supreme Court have now taken the Supreme Court to the cleaners because in the case of Metuh and the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the Supreme Court now had an opportunity to review its earlier position and particularly to interpret Section 306 of the ACJA.

“The Supreme Court said the provision of the Act is not inconsistent with sections 6 and 36 of the constitution on fair hearing and that as a matter of fact, Section 36(4) stipulates that everybody who has a case in court shall be entitled to fair hearing within a reasonable time and reasonable time cannot be indefinite.

“So, some of our senior lawyers are very angry with this decision. And so, they gathered in Abuja a couple of weeks ago to challenge that judgment of the Supreme Court. To those who say it is contemptuous to criticise the Supreme Court; it is no longer contemptuous now. So, I think it is important for us to let the world know that Section 306 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act is not a new phenomenon in Nigeria.”

Also speaking, leading EFCC prosecutor, Jacobs, raised the alarm that defence counsel have now resorted to using trial-within-trial as the new delay tactic after Section 306 had abolished stay of proceedings.

Jacobs said, “One major thing that is still affecting us is this trial-within-trial.

“In the Jolly Nyame’s case that we recently concluded and the court gave judgment last week, I remember that we conducted trial-within-trial in respect of three statements made by the accused person for close to three years.

“And this is because there are pronouncements of the Supreme Court that where an accused person makes three statements, trial-within-trial has to be conducted for each of the statements.”

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