By Alex Enumah
The Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami (SAN), on Monday said that the Consolidated Federal Capital Territory Courts Sentencing Guidelines and Practice will accelerate decongestion of correctional centres nationwide.
Malami, while commending the introduction of non-custodial sentencing by the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA), 2015, said the recent provision of a clear legislative and institutional framework for the implementation of the ACJA by the Nigerian Correctional Service Act, 2019, were efforts by the federal government at addressing the colossal problem of congestion in correctional facilities in Nigeria.
The AGF spoke at the signing of the Consolidated Federal Capital Territory Courts (Custodial and Non – Custodial Sentencing) Practice Directions, 2020 at the headquarters of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) High Court, Abuja.
He said: “The provision for non-custodial sentences such as probation, community service, restitution, compensation and suspended sentence by the ACJA 2015, was one of the main innovations of the Act.”
Malami observed that on August 17, 2020, during the virtual interactive session to review the draft of the FCT Courts Sentencing Guidelines and Practice Directions, 2020, organized by the Presidential Committee on Correctional Service Reform and Decongestion in collaboration with the Federal Ministry of Justice, that the Federal Capital Territory Courts Sentencing Guidelines and Practice Directions 2020 was geared towards implementing one of the major recommendations of the National Workshop on the Effective Implementation of the Nigerian Correctional Service Act, 2019.
He recalled that stakeholders at the workshop, both at the state and federal levels, resolved that for a proper and effective implementation of the Nigerian Correctional Service Act, 2019; Sentencing Guidelines and Practice Direction commencing with the FCT, should be produced as a matter of urgency and issued especially for the implementation of non-custodial measures provided under Part II of the Nigerian Correctional Service Act, 2019.
According to Malami, following the harmonization of the inputs of the stakeholders at the national workshop, a Technical Working Committee put in place by the Federal Ministry of Justice in collaboration with the Presidential Committee on Correctional Service Reform and Decongestion subsequently developed a Draft FCT Courts (Non-Custodial Sentence) Practice Directions, 2020.
In his remarks, the Chief Judge of the FCT High Court, Justice Ishaq Bello, said the signing of the sentencing guideline is a milestone achievement in the FCT Judiciary because lack of sentencing guideline in the past has led to misconception with the court often being accused of either being unduly lenient or playing to the gallery by imposing severe punishment upon conviction especially in cases of public interest.
Justice Bello, who is also the Chairman of the Presidential Committee, said developing a set of guidelines circumscribes the latitude to impose sentences but within the limit prescribed in statuses.
”The proposed guidelines will therefore provide a system for handing down uniform or consistent sentences for similar crimes where it is strictly followed,” he said.
He explained that the guidelines were developed and remodelled to assist a judge in determining the proper punishment for a convict taking into consideration factors such as nature of the crime, prior criminal history and public interest.
”Another potential benefits of the application of the guidelines is that the resulting sentences become fairly predictable and the jurisdiction can begin to use that information to forecast and manage correctional resources,” Bello added.