By Tobi SoniyiÂ in Lagos
The Corruption and Financial Crime Cases Trial Monitoring Committee (COTRIMCO) inaugurated by the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen to investigate the causes for delays in the determination of corruption cases in the country has in its interim report to the National Judicial Council (NJC) identified the causes for the delays and made recommendations to speed up the trial of corruption cases.
The Director of Information at the NJC, Mr. Soji Oye said in a statement yesterday that the committee, led by a retired judge of the Supreme Court, Suleiman Galadima, submitted the interim report to the NJC at the councilâ€™s 86th meeting held in Abuja a couple of weeks ago.
Oye said the committee met with relevant stakeholders andÂ paid unscheduled visits to courts handling corruption and financial crime cases in some parts of the country.
Among others, it recommended training for the prosecution in the area of investigation and especially on the Administration of Criminal Justice Act.
It also advised the prosecuting agencies to recruit competent and qualified personnel, and suggested that there should be synergy between the various prosecution agencies to enhance proper prosecution of criminal cases.
The committee also recommended the use of professionals such as accountants, auditors, etc, to investigate high profile and complicated cases.
It advised that judges be provided with legal and research assistants to make their work easier.
Other recommendations included proper funding for the judiciary and the prosecuting agencies; deployment of more judges to handle designated corruption cases; a complete overhaul of both the physical and technical infrastructure at designated courts; and the need to come up with Practise Directions for the trial of corruption cases to cure anomalies in the trial of such cases.
In the report, the committee blamed the prosecution, and identified collusion between prosecution and defence counsel as some of the causes of the delay.
The committee also identified the absence of counsel for parties in court, reliance on irrelevant documentary evidence, multiplicity of charges, non-adherence to court rules/procedures, retirement/transfer of judges, re-assignment of cases to startÂ de novoÂ (start afresh), amendment of charges after commencement of trial, and cumbersome record transmission processes to the Court of Appeal, among others, as other factors militating against the speedy disposal of corruption cases.
On how poor prosecution contributes to delays, the committee found that offenders were often charged to court before proper investigation of the charges had been carried out, and afterwards expected the courts to detain such alleged offenders till the conclusion of their investigation.
It noted that prosecution agencies lacked adequate manpower while some of the prosecutors lacked the requisite experience to prosecute corruption cases, which invariably led to the poor handling of such cases.
The committee also found â€œlack of commitment on the part of some prosecutors and collusion between them and defence counsel to pervert justice either by stalling the trial of cases or achieving pre-determined resultsâ€ as another factor leading to delay of those trials.
According to the committee, the law allows the prosecution to call a limitless number of witnesses and that also leads to delays.
Other factors identified by the committee included inadequate funding of the prosecution agencies to carry out thorough investigation of the corruption cases with the attendant low-quality prosecution of cases, as well as frequent requests for adjournment by the prosecutors.
It also blamed the prosecution for duplicating charges which could be as much as 170 against a defendant, but at the end is unable to substantiate them, leading to the discharge of the defendant.
The report stated: â€œThe committee also observed the issue of multiplicity of cases involving the same defendants, and on similar subject matters going on in different courts at the same time. This particular factor makes it impossible for some trials to proceed.
â€œIn spite of the fact that the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA), 2015, provides for day-to-day trials of criminal cases, a defendant who is undergoing trial in other courts is always unavailable for trial.â€
Another major factor identified by the committee was the absence of parties in court. It noted that cases were mostly adjourned when parties were absent in court.
The committee stated that where the defence challenges the voluntariness of a confessional statement, the judge is forced to order a trial-within-trial to determine the voluntariness of the confession, thereby causing further delays.
The committee also submitted that both the defence and prosecution often rely on irrelevant evidence they would not necessarily use, thereby causing unnecessary delays.
On the courts, the committee identified the following as contributing to the delay in the quick dispensation of corruption cases:
â€¢ Retirement/transfer of judges handling such cases which often leads to fresh trials by a new judge;
â€¢ Grant of a remand order by a court without following up to ensure suspects are brought to court;
â€¢ Inadequate provision for proper record keeping and shelving of court files and other relevant documents in some courts;
â€¢ Cumbersome process of transmission of records from trial courts, which impedes the early disposal of appeals; and
â€¢ Difficulties associated with ascertaining addresses for service of process by bailiffs.
The report also blamed the prisons for contributing to the delays by failing to remind courts of subsisting orders to reproduce suspects at the courts, and most times lacking the means to convey those awaiting trial to the law courts.
The committee said it would continue to monitor corruption and criminal cases all over the country and meet with stakeholders on the way forward.