… UNVEILS PROTOCOL/MANUAL ON PLEA BARGAIN
Lagos State Government has advised stakeholders in the legal sector to embrace the culture of exploring the provisions of ‘Plea and SentenceBargain’ when presiding over litigations, saying that the State Government will continue to adopt reasonable and creative measures in its prison decongestion drive.
The Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Mr. Adeniji Kazeem gave the advice at the presentation of the Plea Bargain Manual on Thursday at Alausa, Ikeja.
He said that the rationale behind the presentation of the Manual was hinged on the belief that the availability of a forum for quick and efficient dispensation of justice will buoy the confidence of citizens in the Administration of criminal justice in Lagos.
Kazeem explained that it was expedient for stakeholders in the judicial sector to embrace creative provisions in the already existing laws to decongest prisons considering the length of time Awaiting Trial Inmates/detainees remain in prison custody because of length of court proceedings.
“My hope is that the formal presentation of this manual would trigger a change of attitude from our “don’t plead guilty” approach even in the face of overwhelming evidence against the Defendant. This would go a long way in decongesting not only the Courts but also decongesting the Prisons who are already groaning under the burden of the Population in their care.”
He lamented that though the plea bargain theory has been part of the criminal justice system for over a decade in Lagos State, yet its applicability has been poorly utilized by lawyers.
The Attorney-General informed that in many jurisdictions, plea bargaining has served as an important, useful and effective tool used to keep the wheels of justice moving in a timely and cost effective manner
Giving an overview of the Manual, the Commissioner explained that the booklet was prepared in a very simple English to ensure that even the layman on the street can understand it.
“I recommend the use of plea bargain to all and sundry. Private Counsels should imbibe the culture of advising their clients appropriately especially in the face of overwhelming evidence rather than the usual practice of encouraging them to plead “not guilty”.
“The manual provides practical information about what Plea Bargain entails and the procedure for applying and general information that would make the process less complicated for all stakeholders. It is presented in very simple English to ensure that even the layman on the street can understand it” the Commissioner added.
Kazeem who said that he is mindful of the fact that the law places the burden on the prosecution to prove its case beyond reasonable doubt, however, maintained that Defence has a pivotal role to play in Court administration.
He further stated that the office of the Attorney General is fully committed to ensuring speedy and fair dispensation of justice to all citizenry regardless of economic or social status.
According to him, “this commitment extends to providing a secure environment for commercial and other economic activities to thrive and will not hesitate to prosecute defendants who have been found to have committed commercial or financial related offences which are contrary to offences created by statute. However, it is important to reiterate that my office understands and indeed is constantly mindful of the unbargainable need to exercise its discretionary powers to prosecute, or not to prosecute, to take over or discontinue criminal cases within jurisdiction as entrenched in the constitution with great sense of responsibility devoid of any bias, prejudice, fear or favour”.
Mr Kazeem, emphasized that “the prosecutorial powers of the office of the Attorney General will not be used as a platform for settling commercial disputes, family quarrels or Land tussles and will not be pressurized to act in the interest of one party against another. To do otherwise would be against the constitutional responsibilities of my office”.
The Attorney-General who said that the State Government recognises the fact that there are many challenges bedevilling the criminal justice system in Nigeria especially in Lagos State given its high population, however, reiterated that the administration of Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode is committed to tackling the issues and proposing appropriate reforms.
The representative of the Lagos Commissioner of Police, Bolaji Salami assured Lagosians that the Police Force would take full advantage of the law and implement its content to the letter.
The Divisional Chairmen of the Nigeria Bar Association, NBA, Lagos State Chapter opined that lawyers should be educated about the provisions and workings of the manual for effective use.
They said that the numbers of legal officers including Magistrates in the State are grossly inadequate, adding that the efforts of the State Government in judicial reforms would not yield the expected results if the inadequacy is not addressed.