ACJA 2015 and Persons Awaiting Trial

In April 2020, the Nigerian Correctional Service reported that over 51,983 out of the total number of 73,726 inmates in Correctional facilities were awaiting trial inmates.

This is 70% of the total numbers of inmates in correctional facilities across the nation. This report is supported by another report of the Nigeria National Bureau of Statistics showing that throughout 2011 – 2015, a total percentage of 72.5% of inmates in Nigeria were persons who were yet to be sentenced by courts.

When the Administration of Criminal Justice Act came into force in 2015, it brought with it reformative provisions on arbitrary arrests and detention. Section 34 (1) and (4) for instance provides for monthly visitations of Magistrates and Judges of the High Court to detention facilities to check the records and grant bail to persons unlawfully detained or issue appropriate orders to those whose matters have not been charged to court over a long period to be so charged. Similarly under Part 30 titled “Detention Time Limits” section 294 of the ACJA provides that the court to which an application for remand is made may if satisfied that there is probable cause to remand the suspect pending the receipt of a copy of the legal advice from the Attorney-General of the Federation and arraignment of the suspect before the appropriate court, as the case may be, may remand the suspect in custody. Section 296 however prescribes a 14 day duration for each order of detention by the court for various reasons up to a maximum of four occasions.

The purpose of these provisions is mainly to curtail the increasing rate of congestion in Correctional facilities and in detention facilities across the nation. However while these supervisory and time lined procedures for pre-trial detention are salutary, there are reported glitches owing to shoddy investigation, delays in advisory opinions from the DPP’s office or misplaced case files. The result is that the number of Awaiting Trial Persons (ATP) in Correctional facilities across the country remains alarmingly high.

 

Despite the call for the amendment of section 293 of the ACJA (on the subject of remand pending trial by a Magistrate who lacks jurisdiction to try the alleged offence of the suspect) which is argued to be inconsistent with the provisions of Section 35 of the CFRN 1999, we are of the view that the provisions relating to awaiting trial persons are quite desirable and consistent with the Constitution.

 

No law is perfect and like every existing legislation, the ACJA does require necessary amendments. However, for laws to be effective, capacity and institutional gaps must be addressed to enable effective implementation. Law enforcement officers also needs to be properly sensitized against the negative trend of endlessly detaining suspects without first conducting proper investigations for their trial. There is also need to develop a judicial strategy against the abuse of the provisions by law enforcement agencies who spuriously seek to remand suspects in custody with no intention of investigating or trying them for any offence