- Monthly visits by magistrates will reduce the agony of detainees
Chief Judge (CJ) of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, Justice Ishaq Bello, deserves praise for the committee he has set up to implement the provisions of section 34 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA). Section 34 provides that the chief magistrate, or where there is no chief magistrate within the police division, any magistrate designated by the chief judge for that purpose shall, at least every month, conduct an inspection of police stations or other places of detention within his territorial jurisdiction other than the prison.
There is no doubt that the makers of the ACJA, in making section 34, had in mind the challenges faced by detainees arising from structural challenges in the administration of criminal justice in the country. One of the challenges is tardiness on the part of the police, which results in detention of persons well beyond the statutory period allowed by the 1999 constitution (as amended). There are even instances where the records of the crime committed by a detainee are misplaced, which in turn hampers a proper trial.
According to the CJ, the ACJA was “enacted as a solution to the challenge faced by the Nigerian court system.” There are reports that detainees suffer unnecessarily because of these challenges, and so we support genuine effort to make detention process more humane. The CJ also envisages that “the proposed police stations visit will provide a platform to introduce a legal advice scheme to ensure suspects and victims have access to free legal advice and that they are kept in humane conditions as the ACJA anticipates.”
No doubt such a monthly visit will bring greater efficiency and enhance a better justice delivery system. Such visits would also stop reports that sometimes the records of crime of detainees could vanish, resulting in some detainees languishing in detention permanently. Furthermore, it should stop cases of under-aged detainees, sometimes even amongst persons accused of committing serious crimes. Indeed, it should end the bizarre allegation that lawful detainees could be swapped with other persons; and the deplorable condition of detention centres.
We hope to see the end of maltreatment of detainees by police officials, sometimes through the deprivation of full rations, inhumane tactics during interrogations, or sexual abuse of the female detainees, amongst other vices. We believe that a monthly visit by a court official will serve as a check on some of these allegations. So the CJ is right in his expectation that the “inauguration of the working group births the change we want to see in the area of human rights of persons in the police stations and other detention centres,”
The challenges faced by detainees at police stations and other detention centres compelled the law makers to enact section 34 of the act, so that the chief judge gets a report from the chief magistrate or any other person so designated. That report will enable the CJ to exercise his powers to release detainees or make necessary recommendations. After all, generally, under our laws, no person should be detained for more than 48 hours, without being charged to court.
The CJ also said that “apart from ensuring that rights of suspects are respected in the detention centres, the group is being tasked to come up with strategies for the effective implementation of this project.”
We urge the committee to ensure the project is implemented to give verve to the provisions of the 1999 constitution. We also urge chief judges of states that have enacted the Administration of Criminal Justice laws, to emulate Justice Bello by ensuring the enforcement of section 34 of the law.