Alex Enumah in Abuja
The federal government in a decisive step to enhance justice delivery as well as reduce drastically the number of inmates across custodial centres in the country, yesterday commenced virtual court sitting at the Kuje Correctional Centre, Abuja.
Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, SAN, in a remark at the launch of Virtual Court sitting facilities at the Kuje Correctional Centre, stated that the project was initiated to ensure the hearing and determination of urgent and time-bound cases, using the digital platform.
He said: “This system would equally ensure speedy dispensation of trials in line with section 36(4) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended), which provides that every person shall be entitled to fair hearing within a reasonable time.
“It would also eliminate the issue of difficulties in conveying the inmates to court and would further ensure the safety and security of the inmates and law enforcement officers.
According to the AGF, the government will no longer be constrained by mobility, space and time in justice delivery on account of accommodation of the virtual court sitting facilities and deployment of incidental technology.
He noted stably the country’s justice system which is founded on the constitutional principle of fundamental rights to fair hearing requires the court to hear and determine cases in public and in the presence of suspects or parties in court.
Malami said the Virtual Court Proceedings are in compliance with the provisions of section 36(3) of the Constitution, which provides for public court sitting or hearing.
“This Virtual Court Proceedings meet up with the expectation of the Constitution and are not private hearings but open to the respective counsel involved, the litigants (inmates) and the general public at large, he said.
The Acting Director Administration of Criminal Justice and Reforms Department Federal Ministry of Justice, Mrs. Leticia Ayoola-Daniels,
who doubles as Secretary of the Presidential Committee on Correctional Reforms and Decongestion, expressed hope that these virtual court facilities will feed into the already existing virtual court sittings that are in the judiciary, and by so doing fast track the dispensation of court cases while saving costs on security and mobilization of accused persons.
In a goodwill message, UNDP Nigeria Country Representative, Lealem Dinku said the programme was designed to support the court system to accelerate the hearing of Sexual and Gender-Based Violence/Harmful Practices/Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights/Violence Against Women and Girls civil and criminal cases, and will allow judiciaries to hear cases without transporting inmates to physical locations.
Dinku added that the project will help to reduce backlog and the time spent in pre-trial detention while also helping to reduce administration and operational costs.
The project was fully funded by the UNDP, with funds from the government of Japan (Supporting an Inclusive & Multi-Sectoral Response to COVID-19 and Addressing Socio-Economic Impact).
Meanwhile, Ayoola-Daniels, in a statement, disclosed that immediately after the launch of the Kuje Virtual Court Rooms, the presidential committee in collaboration with the Federal Ministry of Justice, after clearful deliberation effected the release of 15 inmates with minor offences with an option of fine.
She added that the affected inmates were then released after the payment of the fines.
Dignitaries on occasion were the Minister of Interior, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, Federal High Court Chief Judge, Justice John Tsoho, FCT Chief Judge, Justice Ishaq Bello, Ambassador of JAPAN, MATSUNAGA Kazuyoshi, Controller-General (NCS), Mr. Haliru Nababa, UNDP Nigeria Deputy Country Representative, Mr. Lealem Berhanu Dinku among others.