* As AGF laments slow implementation of ACJA
By Alex Enumah in Abuja
The President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa, on Monday revealed that more than 50 fiats have so far been given to about eight Justices of the Court of Appeal in pursuit of the achievement of the goals of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) 2015.
The act passed in 2015 was aimed among others, at protecting rights of persons who come in contact with the justice system and ensure that all are treated fairly.
Speaking at a workshop to propose and deliberate on minimum standards for rating or evaluating the federal government, states and criminal justice agencies with respect to the implementation of the ACJA/ACJLs, Justice Bulkachuwa disclosed that the Court of Appeal granted the waivers to enable justices of the court go back and complete cases they have partly heard while presiding at the lower courts.
“I was part and parcel of the passage of the Criminal Justice Act at inception and I witnessed its implementation,” she said.
She said her action was based on applications from the Ministry of Justice and other prosecutorial agencies to direct judges promoted to the Court of Appeal to go back and complete cases not yet decided.
“I have given fiat more than 50 times to justices to go back and complete their assignment,” Justice Bulkachuwa said, adding that the most recent was the one given to Justice Idris, who convicted former Abia State Governor, Senator Orji Kalu.
According to her, if the fiat was not granted, the wheel of justice would have been badly affected as the cases being handled by the promoted judges would have been reassigned to other judges who would have to hear them afresh.
However, the Court of Appeal President while remarking that the gesture has so far resulted to a big gain for the criminal justice system, said all the cases that she gave fiat for their conclusions are yet to surface at the appellate court.
“None of those determined cases have so far come to the court of appeal,” she said.
In his opening remark, the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN), said: “The key provisions of the ACJA include the abolition of lay prosecution at the federal level, prohibition of unlawful arrests prevalent at the pre-trial stage such as arrest in lieu of suspect, arrest for civil wrongs.
“The ACJ Act prescribes arrest protocols and timelines for carrying out specific functions by the implementing institutions. Other remarkable provisions are remand protocols, electronic recording of statements/confessions of suspects, establishment of a central criminal record registry (CCRR) at the Police Force Headquarters, clear-cut guidelines for plea bargain, non-custodial measures and a monitoring Committee to ensure that the institutions of criminal justice work in a more coordinated manner to realise the objective of the Act just to mention but a few.”
While stating that about 30 out of the 36 states of the federation have adopted the ACJL, he however lamented the slow pace of its implementation.
“Distinguished participants, I am aware that adoption of the ACJ Act is only but the beginning of the journey of reforming the criminal justice. The second and more important is implementation.
“However, application of the law has been slow. So, beyond reforming laws, the federal and state governments must put in place the necessary structures to guarantee the successful implementation of the laws,” he said.
In a welcome, President, Centre for Socio-Legal Studies (CSLS), Prof. Yemi Akinseye-George (SAN), said the workshop organized by the CSLS was aimed at rallying support for stakeholders in all the states of the federation for the development of basic or common minimum standards for the effective implementation of the ACJA/ACJLs.
Akinseye-George said the participants are to identify common elements in the federal ACJA and ACJLs of the various states and then propose standards based on these common elements.
“In other words, we are beginning the process of identifying and agreeing on the minimum standards by which the federal government and the states will be evaluated with respect to the implementation of the ACJA and ACJLs. About 21 indicators will be proposed for consideration at the workshop.
“The indicators will be formally presented to the Forum of State Governors as well as the National Economic Council and the body of Attorneys-General.
“In 2020, a National Review Workshop will be held to prepare the FCT and the states for the First National Evaluation Process,” he added.