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Isaiah Bozimo Esq.,

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Why We Are Reviewing Administration of Criminal Justice Law 2016 – Delta Attorney General

Isaiah Bozimo Esq., Delta State Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice

Why We Are Reviewing Administration of Criminal Justice Law 2016 – Delta Attorney General

By Michael Odiah

The Delta State Commissioner for Justice and Attorney General, Isaiah Bozimo has said that the Delta State Administrative Criminal Justice Law 2016, having served its purpose at the time, was clouded by shortcomings.

The Attorney General stated this during a Stakeholders summit on the review of the Delta State Administration of Criminal law 2016 held on at government house, Asaba.

According to Bozimo, “In 2016 we had new criminal Justice law, and the intention of that law was to solve some of the difficulties we were seeing in the delivery of criminal justice. For instance, delayed trial; the awaiting trial of persons then were in prisons now called the custodial centers. ACJL was meant to ensure that all criminal proceedings are done efficiently so we do not see these difficulties of delayed trials; where trials are going on for years, meanwhile persons are waiting in custodial centers while the trial is going on. That was the intention of the law then.”

“We have now had few years to experience the law in operation, so in order to gauge how well it has performed, we called for the views of the different stakeholders, the different participants in the criminal justice sector; judges, magistrates, the Nigeria Police Force, the Nigerian correctional service and also members of the Nigerian Bar Association, each of them gave us feedback.”

”Then in the Ministry of Justice, we conducted an internal review. We called those who prosecute cases in court, what are the difficulties you are experiencing? What are some of the areas you need to review so we do not have these difficulties persisting? We discussed internally, and then finally, I went on prison visits with the Chief Judge of the state to see how this law is translating into real world scenarios. How does it affect those in our custodial centers”

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Speaking further the Commissioner for Justice added that “these feedback we’ve received and the experience we’ve had, we are now trying to propose a further update to the ACJL 2016. So we are now bringing a proposed Administration of Criminal Justice bill. At this stage, it is still proposed because we have not presented it. What we want to do is, we have heard the complaints, what is now on ground is what we think the solution should be, but as everybody knows, we can’t know it all.”

Stakeholders at the review of Administration of Criminal Justice Law 2016

Stakeholders at the review of Administration of Criminal Justice Law 2016

“So the purpose of today’s event is to bring back all stakeholders, all those who are affected or who participate one way or another in the Criminal Justice System to say that, these proposals that we have presented, you think in reality it would work? We have already received some feedback, some areas they said, fantastic, in some other areas, let’s change it a little bit so that when it goes out in actual operation, it will work as intended.”

“Today is to show and discuss the proposals that we are making, to see if the stakeholders accept these proposals, or whether they still think we need further review. Really what we want to end up with is a criminal justice system that is efficient, so cases progress quickly, one in which persons are not held too long in custodial centers, while these trials are going on, that’s what we are trying to do. We are trying to improve it so we have a system that works for all deltans.”

While speaking on its effectiveness on decongesting the prisons, Bozimo said that “the way it will help decongest our prisons is that, we want to actually move away from a punitive system. What that means is that, the criminal justice focuses on punishments, whereas I think I should also focus on reforming, to try and make people realize the error of their ways, and when they eventually go back to the society, to prevent the risk of them reoffending and then going back to prison. So we want to introduce what is called non-custodial sentences, which simply means, you are not held in custody of a correctional center or a prison, these are some of the things we are looking at.

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“For the non-custodial sentences, we are also looking to see if a person needs rehabilitative help or reformative help, maybe there are some underlying difficulties that person is facing and that is what is leading them to offend, for instance, drugs addiction, alcoholism, we would, instead of locking you up, why don’t we place you in a reformative program, a program that will help you defeat your addiction to drugs or alcohol, so you will now come back and be reintegrated into the society in a way that is useful and beneficial for all. So these are some of the things we’re looking at on basics of improving the system.”

He noted that the review exercise was in view of the average deltan to ensure that ACJL works efficiently. “It’s because we want it to work and benefit the average person that is why we are having the stakeholders’ engagement. If we thought we have all the arms, we will simply take it as an executive bill to the house of assembly and have it enacted but what we want to do is to gauge it against the opinions of the judges, the magistrates, those in our custodial centers, the prisons, the lawyers themselves who actually represent the common man, on the streets to hear their feedbacks. We are here to listen actively, because we are not drafting the law for us, we are drafting it so the average man on the street does not suffer unnecessarily and courts are able to process these cases quicker than they currently do. All these discussions we are having ultimately is to serve the average man on the street.”

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The Attorney General hinted that there are provisions in the bill to cover, a defendant in a criminal trial that is unable to afford a lawyer, “the person has two options, you can either ask an organization; the Legal Aid Organization of Nigeria to represent you or you can ask the office of the Public Defender to do a free representation for you. It is also within the courts discretion to nominate a lawyer that is in court at the time to represent a defendant who cannot afford to pay a lawyer.”

He also stated that “Witness protection is a critical aspect of the administration of criminal justice law because if witnesses cannot come to testify for fear of intimidation, then we loose a significant and very important aspect of it, and it encapsulates also protection of victims of crimes.”

He added that, “One of the innovations we are trying to introduce is what we call the offenders levy. The offender’s levy entails that if somebody is found guilty of an offense, there is an amount of money that they have to pay, and that amount of money is then taken into a dedicated fund for victims and for witnesses in criminal trials. We intend to use part of that fund for a witness protection program working in collaboration with other arms of government.”

“So, the intention of what we want to do is to ensure that those who are incarcerated have an opportunity for reform and have an opportunity to be reintegrated into the society.” Bozimo submitted.

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