I am being called upon to critically appraise the Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015, a legislation that has far-reaching implications for all the stakeholders in the administration of justice including policy makers and the citizens generally.
According to one commentary ‘The criminal justice system seems to have lost its capacity to respond quickly to the needs of the society to check the rising waves of crime and bring criminals to book. It is therefore necessary to vigorously strive towards improving the efficiency of criminal justice administration. This entails an urgent elimination of unacceptable delays in disposing of criminal cases. It is also necessary to collaborate with the judiciary in stipulating what would be regarded as ‘reasonable duration’ for hearing and determination of criminal cases. It is also desirable to engage in continuous and systematic evaluation of the performance of our criminal justice system in the light of best practices elsewhere.
Furthermore, close attention ought to be paid to the following questions:
Whether objections and arguments with regard to the charge and jurisdiction, which unduly delay the commencement of the trial on the merits could be countered or limited.
Whether the powers of judicial officers to curtail irrelevant or unduly protracted cross-examination and testimony should be extended.
Whether any other provisions relating to criminal procedure and the law of evidence should be amended in order to obviate unnecessary delays and abuse.
Consequently, it is necessary to also examine closely proposals regarding:
Restricting the right of interlocutory appeal in criminal matters;
Non-Transfer of Investigating Police Officers.
It is also necessary to review, strengthen and reposition the Federal Ministry of Justice as a major priority if this new law is to be effective.
The objective of this exercise would be to promote efficiency and boost the morale of staff of the Federal Ministry of Justice at the Federal level and at the level of the states. The performance of each of the Departments and Parastatals should be evaluated with a view to ascertaining their potentials, problems and prospects. Ostensibly at the end of the exercise, each department and parastatalof the justice sector ought to:
* Have a mission statement
* Develop a set of core values
* Develop a clearly articulated vision
* Identify and declare key result areas including:
* Strategic goals
* Key Result indicators
* Programme of action
* Premier projects
The ultimate goal is to create a more proactive and efficient mechanism for service delivery and project implementation. One of the major outcomes anticipated by the anticipated review efforts is the establishment of a strategic plan, which will embody the foregoing components.
In making the new law effective staff motivation of the Justice Ministry is also critical.
There is need to develop staff motivational strategies. These include: Training of staff Regular Seminars are to be organised with Resource persons invited from within and outside the Ministry; There is also need to interact closely with the lawyers through regular meetings and brain storming sessions convened to discuss on-going cases; Provision of Equipment including Internet Access and E-mail facilities should be treated as a matter of urgency.
Ultimately the focus is to make the judicial sector more transparent and accountable.This is because the trend all over the world is to make judicial institutions more transparent and accountable. Consequently, it is necessary to guarantee:
The establishment of a central database in the office of the Federal Attorney General to collect, analyse and disseminate vital and up-to-date justice sector statistics from the federal judiciary and the judiciaries of the 36 states of the federation. With this new law at the press of a button, the Attorney-General should be able to provide the public with information on how many cases are in court, types of cases, say murder cases and other criminal matters including, commencement dates, number of adjournments, etc.
Expectedly, the Federal Ministry of Justice should convene a periodic justice forum that would examine the statistics from each state/judiciary in the light of benchmarks and core values to be determined ahead by a Justice Forum.
All stakeholders in the justice sector namely Chief Judges and other heads of judiciaries and their nominees, Attorneys-General of all states, chairmen/nominees of the Nigerian Bar Association, court registrars, justice ministries, the police, the media, NGOs and the Legislature should be participants in the Sensitization Forum.
Expectedly, annual returns on the Administration of Justice should be readily available for public scrutiny. This would disseminate vital statistics from the justice sector. It is not sufficient to merely ask judges to file monthly returns. In addition, these returns should be analyzed and used as a basis for planning and evaluating the success of reform measures.
The expectation is that performance will be guaranteed in five key result areas including: Crime, safety and security; Access to Justice; The legal profession including (legal education); Human resources development and Funding administration of justice.
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