Making ACJA work – The Nation

  • This is a task that must be done by judges and lawyers, to save their profession

The excitement that greeted the emergence of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) has dampened because of its limited success in ensuring speedy trial of cases. An investigation conducted by this paper  showed that one case has lasted for 829 working days, without a final judgment. This is despite the several provisions in the ACJA to ensure trials don’t last for more than few months.

One of such provisions is section 396(3) of the ACJA which provides: “upon arraignment the trial of the defendant shall proceed from day-to-day until the conclusion of the trial.” Sub-section 4 provides: “where day-to-day trial is impracticable after arraignment, no party shall be entitled to more than five adjournments from arraignment to final judgment; provided always that the interval between each adjournment shall not exceed 14 working days.”

There are other provisions geared towards ensuring that our criminal justice system operates in accordance with world best practice. Unfortunately, despite these laudable provisions, the criminal justice system is still steeped in embarrassing delays. So, what could be the cause of this negation of the laudable objects of the ACJA? According to some commentators, the judges and lawyers are responsible for the delays. Others are however of the opinion that the provisions are impracticable, even as some called for increase in the number of judges to reduce the number of cases a judge handles.

While all of the adduced reasons may be responsible for the crisis in the criminal justice sector, we urge the legislature, the executive and the judiciary to find answers to the challenges facing our criminal justice system. After all, it is commonly agreed that ‘justice delayed is justice denied’. Of course, it must be appreciated that in a criminal trial, justice is three-pronged: to the victim, to the state and to the accused person. So, all parties, we guess, lose when a trial is perennially prolonged.

But of all the parties, it is the society that loses most. Among those accused of causing the delay, it is the judges and lawyers that owe the responsibility to the society to ensure that criminal trials are expeditiously carried out. After all, the courts are their primary place of business, and if the society should lose faith in the sanctity of the courts, they stand to lose more than any other group. They also stand in the best stead to ensure obedience to the letter and spirit of the law. Of course, they are primarily in charge of affairs in the court, and are responsible for the procedure therein.

Between them, they can ensure that the delays become a thing of the past. On their part, the legislators can look out for the loopholes in the law that are being exploited and block them. They can enact laws to sanction judges and lawyers who flout any of the important provisions of the act. They can also ensure that judges are well remunerated, and if necessary provide the resources to ensure that more judges are appointed, so that courts are not overcrowded with cases.

The Chief Justice of Nigeria has just lamented that the judiciary is not independent with regards to the resources needed. Clearly, the solution lies with the executive and the legislature, after all, while one appropriates, the other dispenses. The conference of judges and the Nigerian Bar Association should also weigh in to improve the ACJA. They can recommend necessary amendments that can curb the current abuses. As we stated earlier, apart from the general society, the two stand to lose most if the judicial system collapses.

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