Chairman Presidential Advisory Committee against Corruption, Professor Itse Sagay (SAN), has called for â€œstiff punishment for counsel, particularly senior advocates, who have turned obstruction and frustration of proceedings on high-profile corruption cases into an art.â€
Sagay said as punishment, such senior lawyers should be denied right of appearance in such high profile and grand corruption cases.
The professor made this recommendation in Lagos yesterday at the media round-table organised by the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP).
The round-table titled: â€˜Strategies and Approaches for the Successful Completion and Effective Prosecution of Abandoned and Unresolved High Profile Cases of Corruption in Nigeria. Combating Grand Corruption and Impunity in Nigeria was organised by SERAP in collaboration with TrustAfrica.
Sagay, who was unavoidably absent at the event but sent his paper presentation, also urged prosecuting counsel in grand corruption cases to apply to reinstate any case struck out for want of prosecution.
â€œIn cases requiring appeal, the authorities must apply for leave to appeal out of time, and prepare evidence and legal arguments thoroughly, including inviting consultants to provide advice.
â€œProsecuting authorities must insist on full application of Sections 306 and 396 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, namely: No stay of proceedings under any circumstances â€“ S. 306.Any preliminary objection must be taken together with the substantive issue â€“ S. 396(2), and hearings shall be on a daily basis, but in exceptional cases, adjournments not to be in excess of 14 working day, may be granted. Such adjournments not to exceed 5 in any proceedings â€“ S. 396 (3) and (4),â€ he noted.
Sagay also recommended that a High Court judge who is elevated while presiding over a criminal case should be allowed to conclude the case without any effect on his new status.
â€œThe Head of various courts, namely: Chief Justice of Nigeria; President, Court of Appeal; Chief Judge of the Federal High Court and Chief Judges of State High Courts, should be sensitised about the very critical nature of the fight against high-level official corruption to Nigeriaâ€™s development and the welfare of its peoples.
â€œPending the establishment of a special Crimes Court for the whole country, Criminal Divisions should be created in the Federal and State High Courts. Specially vetted and selected judges, known for integrity and self-discipline should be posted to man such courts.
â€œIt is very important to deploy the Administration of Criminal Justice Monitoring Committee and Civil Society Groups to monitor all high profile corruption cases on a day to day basis (i) to ensure that corruption cases are heard speedily and in full compliance with Sections 306 and 396 of the ACJA, (ii) to report non-compliance by any judge to the National Judicial Council (NJC).
â€œAll suspected proceeds of crime should be placed under temporary forfeiture during the trial of a high-profile person. Prosecuting authorities should resort to Non-Conviction Based Asset forfeiture, where proof beyond reasonable doubt is difficult to achieve because of technicalities. Prosecuting authorities should also consider resorting frequently to the Plea Bargaining Provisions of ACJA in order to save time and state resources,â€ Sagay recommended.
The guest speaker, Professor Yemi Akinseye-George (SAN), said the best way to rob a country is to buy its political system.
He decried that there are several high profile corruption cases that are stuck and unresolved- no acquittal, no conviction.
â€œThe National Judicial Council (NJC) should be proactive in tackling corruption. Judiciary must purge themselves of corruption so that they can avoid executive interference. We also need to leverage on e-recording of proceedings and put an end to writing in long hand by judges.â€
According to Akinseye-George, there is need for authentic and reliable source of information on corruption cases.
â€œCivil society organisation should be apolitical; they should focus on the issue and not the persons. SERAP is at the forefront of the campaign for the efficient prosecution of high corruption cases. Please sustain the advocacy,â€ he added.