The administration of criminal justice process is manned by a broad spectrum of stakeholders, each having a unique and distinct responsibility from the other with certain overlaps occurring at some point during their interaction.
Arguably, the first stage of the criminal justice process is the investigation stage and this occurs right after a complaint has been made to any investigative agency - the Police being the foremost investigative agency in Nigeria.
When a complaint is made, the onus is on the investigator to carry out investigations in order to determine the veracity of the complaint and to determine if it discloses any prima facie case or wrong doing and where such exists, to also determine if the wrong complained of is civil or criminal in nature. If the investigation reveals that there is indeed a wrong to be remedied and that it is criminal in nature, the investigative agency is to immediately set in course the criminal justice process and have the wrong doer(s) prosecuted and eventually convicted (if the court so determines). This thus means that the investigative stage of the criminal justice process is very important in determining the final outcome of any case because it is in this stage that the determination of whether to proceed to trial is made and it is also at this stage that evidence relevant to the case is gathered.
Whilst it can be argued that the investigative stage is to be manned by investigators, it cannot be argued that the duties here are to be performed exclusively by investigators to the exclusion of others. Unfortunately, the argument had previously been that the investigators were at liberty to solely and unilaterally investigate cases without the aid and assistance of any other criminal justice stakeholder and this was the practice. This practice led to very ugly situations of; investigators taking a lot of time to investigate; or gather evidence that were not all relevant to the case; or relevant to ground conviction; or relevant to establish a firm link between the offence investigated and the accused person standing trial.
Consequently, cases were often lost or struck out for want of evidence to sufficiently establish the commission of an offence (not having established all the necessary ingredients for the offence); or the culpability of the accused in committing the offence for which he is standing trial etc. It therefore became very necessary to incorporate the prosecutors into the investigative process e.g. to help guide the investigators on what to look out for during the investigation of cases; gathering of evidence; transfer of evidence; preservation of evidence; tendering of evidence etc. This also called for the development of a framework to guide the involvement of investigators and prosecutors in any case to ensure a smooth and seamless cooperation and collaboration.
It was owing to this that stakeholders put together the standard operating procedure on cooperation and coordination of cases investigated and prosecuted by the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) and the Department of Public Prosecutions of the Federal Ministry of Justice (DPP FMOJ).
Functions of the SOP
The SOP was created to perform the following functions;
- Guide the cooperation and coordination of investigation and prosecution of cases, between the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) and Department of Public Prosecution of the Federation (DPPF).
- To ensure the effectiveness of the Investigation and Prosecution process through well nurtured and regulated interdependence.
- To establish and set out the basic principles of cooperation between investigators and prosecutors.
- To set out the scope of cooperation between investigators and prosecutors by listing out the kinds of cases that should witness this cooperation.
- To clearly provide for the mechanisms of cooperation between investigators and prosecutors.
- To ensure early and timely engagement with the DPPF by an IPO investigating any offence. This engagement is meant to elicit legal guidance on what evidence is required to establish the ingredients of the offence(s) under investigation.
- To regulate the handling of intelligence.
- To regulate the issuance of legal advice.
- To regulate the cooperation of investigators and prosecutors even at trial stage.
How would the SOP enhance Prosecution?
This SOP would enhance prosecution in the following ways;
- It ensures that prosecutors are involved in the investigation of cases at the earliest stage.
- It strengthens the ability of the prosecutors to make inputs in the investigation process and guide the investigators on what evidence is required to establish the ingredients of the offence(s) under investigation.
- It would ensure speedy trial of cases as time would no longer be wasted disputing the relevance or admissibility of evidence since the prosecutor has already guided the investigator on what evidence to obtain, how to obtain it, preserve it, transfer it or tender it in court.
- It ensures full cooperation between investigators and prosecutors during the trial.
By virtue of this SOP, the lack of cooperation and coordination that once existed between investigators and prosecutors is a thing of the past. This SOP now provides comprehensively for early and seamless cooperation and collaboration between investigators and prosecutors. This would surely lead to enhancement of the criminal justice process, speedy trial of cases, increased number of convictions in deserving cases and better justice delivery overall.