Court Adjourns Suit Challenging Legality of Part of ACJ Act to July 7

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Tobi Soniyi in Abuja

A Federal High Court in Abuja has fixed July 7, 2016 for hearing and adoption of arguments in a suit by an Abuja-based lawyer and former Commissioner for Information, Abia State, Dr. ACB Agbazuere (applicant), challenging the constitutionality of section 165 (2) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015 which provides for deposit of cash by an accused person before his bail will be approved.

The plaintiff argued that the provisions cited above were contradicted section 36 (5) of the 1999 Constitution by which says an accused remains innocent until his guilt is proved.

The Attorney General of the Federation/Minister of Justice and the National Assembly are defendants in the case.
At yesterday’s sitting, counsel to the National Assembly, Mr. Sabastine Hon, SAN, said he needed time to respond to the plaintiff’s written address and the court gave him seven days to do so.

The plaintiff is asking the court to determine whether the provisions of section 165(2) of the ACJ Act which requires an accused person or his surety to deposit money before bail is approved, is not inconsistent with the provisions of section 36 (5) of the constitution which states that every person who is charged with a criminal offence shall be presumed innocent until proved guilty.

In a 17-paragraph affidavit he deposed to in support of the suit, Agbazuere argued that the provisions of the new law were contrary to the 1999 constitution and that if allowed to stand an accused who has no money or other security will be deprived of his right to bail and will not have his bail approved and will therefore be sent to prison until he pays

According to him, the law is settled that the provisions of the constitution is supreme and if any other law is inconsistent with it, the constitution shall prevail and that other law shall to the extent of its inconsistency be void by virtue of section 1(1) and (3) of the constitution.
He further argues that: “That applicability of section 165 (2) of the ACJ Act will deprive Nigerian citizens of their liberty, freedom and fair hearing.

He said: “With section 165(2) of the ACJ Act 2015, the accused is to pay money before his bail can be approved when the prosecution has neither proved the essential ingredients of the case nor has the accused been found guilty.
“By providing for the mandatory payment of money before bail is approved, section 165(2) of the Act has now presumed every person guilty when he has not been tried and found guilty. It is an aberration and ambush against the people and should not be allowed to stand.

“At a time when the level of poverty in Nigeria is so alarming that the president has declared that Nigeria is broke and states cannot pay salaries to workers except with the aid of bailout funds ( which are also loans), any legislation imposing payment of money on Nigerian citizens before their bail is approved is not only inconsistent with the intendment of section 36 (5) of the constitution but also a bad law as it is anti people.”