In June 2022, Hope Behind Bars Africa, in partnership with the Administration of Criminal Justice Monitoring Committee, held a collaborative capacity-building session with lawyers who would be engaged in the Court Duty Solicitor Scheme. Hope Behind Bars did this to strengthen participants’ ability to provide pre-trial legal services to indigent defendants.
Recall that in February 2022, ACJMC launched the Police Duty Solicitor Scheme (PDSS) to make investigation and prosecution more transparent. The scheme mandates officers to take statements from suspects only in the presence of a legal council. To achieve this, the ACJMC saw the need to train and deploy lawyers who will promptly take up cases of offenders during their first interactions with the police. In August 2022, the ACJMC formally launched the Court Duty Solicitor Scheme (CDSS). The scheme aims to deploy lawyers to represent indigent and vulnerable litigants on trifle matters. According to the Executive Secretary of the ACJMC, Mr Sulayman Dawodu Esq, the CDSS is one of the mechanisms effectuated to ensure that citizens have access to justice irrespective of their financial status. It will ensure speedy trials and decongestion of detention facilities in the country including the reduction of the dockets of the courts. It will also make it easy for defendants to access legal representation at their first appearance.
‘Justice delayed is justice denied’.
William E Gladstone
(Former British Statesman and Prime Minister)
The criminal justice system is the machinery the society uses to enforce the standards of conduct necessary to protect citizens and property. It is a fusion of various arms of government that aim to enforce the law and mitigate crime. These include the Police, the Chief Law Officer/Prosecutor, Judiciary and Correctional centres. There are other stakeholders like the lawyers and the organisations that work to hold the government accountable or provide legal aid, amongst others. These arms interface and are required to address criminal matters collaboratively, and in various capacities, ensuring that justice is speedily dispensed by investigating suspects, protecting victims of crimes and witnesses, convicting and sentencing the guilty, reducing reoffending, while absolving the innocent.
According to statistics by World Police Brief, 7 out of 10 incarcerated persons are awaiting trial. This is attributed to various factors such as inadequate and under equipped criminal justice facilities, inadequate criminal justice personnel, the inability of suspects to afford the services of a legal counsel at the time of arrest amongst others. Research has shown that the more crucial time for a defendant to access legal representation is between the point of arrest and arraignment. With the launch of the CDSS, defence lawyers will be available to represent indigent defendants at the points of arraignment in selected locations in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
With the laudable legislative improvements made through the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) which was signed into law in 2015, serving as a replacement for the Criminal Procedure Act (CPA) and Criminal Procedure Code in Southern and Northern Nigeria. We are glad that FCT will again benefit from the innovations of the ACJA through the launch of the CDSS and we are excited to be partners with the ACJMC as we work together to continually strengthen the capacity of the lawyers deployed towards the scheme. We believe that the CDSS, if properly implemented, will be a channel for effective and speedy dispensation of criminal justice in FCT.
By: Grace Eche, Head of Operations
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