BEING THE TEXT OF A PAPER PRESENTED AT A SPECIAL ASSIZES WORKSHOP ON ADMINISTRATION OF CRIMINAL JUSTICE LAW 2020 OF IMO STATE THIS 16 DAY OF SEPTEMBER 2020 AT
AHAJIOKU CONFERENCE CENTRE, OWERRI, IMO STATE, NIGERIA
The Imo State Administration of Criminal Justice Law, No. 2 of 2020 (hereinafter abbreviated as “ISACJL, 2020)” came into effect on 11th day of March 2020 as a “Law to make provisions for the procedure to be followed in Criminal Justices cases in the High Court and Magistrates’ Courts in Imo State”. The four primary purposes of the ISACJL or gateway of the law are to ensure that the system of administration of criminal justice in Imo State-
(i) promotes efficient management of criminal justice institutions,
(ii) speedy dispensation of justice,
(iii) protection of the society from crime and
(iv) protection of the rights and interests of the suspect, the defendant, and the victim.
Structurally, the ISACJL, 2020 is divided into 47 (forty seven) Chapters and contains a total of 542 (five hundred and forty two) sections with 5 (Five) Schedules. The ISACJL, 2020 is a revolutionary legislation due to the paradigm shifts and reforms it has brought to criminal proceedings and with its coming into force a new vista in criminal justice administration has been ushered in Imo State. With the repeal of the Criminal Procedure Law in section 542 of the ISACJL, 2020, effective from the day it became operational, the courts, law enforcement agencies and other authorities or persons involved in criminal justice administration are mandated by compulsion to ensure compliance with the provisions of the ISACJL “for the realisation of its purposes.”
Without prejudice to the discussion that will follow hereunder, it can be quickly surmised that the wide range of procedural safeguards and fastrack mechanisms embedded in the ISACJL, 2020 are to ensure among other things that-
(a) criminal matters are speedily dealt with;
(b) congestion of cases in courts is drastically reduced;
(c) congestion of prisons is reduced to the barest minimum;
(d) persons awaiting trial are as far as possible not detained in prison custody for unreasonable length of time.
Against the foregoing backdrop, this presentation will attempt to spotlight and accentuate some of the novel provisions of the ISACJL, 2020. This is by no means exhaustive survey and can only serve as a useful guide for further discussions that will follow from other eminent contributions at this august occasion.
SOME NOVEL PROVISIONS OF THE ISACJL, 2020
For ease of comprehension, some of the notable innovative provisions of the ISACJL, 2020 will be identified and considered under the relevant chapters and sections where they were injected or introduced in the law.
Chapter 1 (sections 1 to 7) is titled “Preliminary”.
• In the Interpretation or definition section 3 of ISACJL, 2020, “adult” is clearly stated to mean a person who has attained the age of eighteen years or above while the nomenclature “defendant” is deployed instead of erstwhile “accused” to mean a person against whom a criminal charge or complaint is brought before the court. The general tenor of the ISACJL, 2020 puts human dignity first beginning with the adoption of the word “defendant” instead of accused and extending to its robust provision for humane treatment during arrest.
• We also noted the repetition of some words, terms or phrases in the interpretation section like “defendant”, “division”, “federal law”, “felony”, and “criminal code”. No doubt that this repetition is not deliberate. This must be the proverbial “printer’s devil” rearing its ugly head in a beautiful document.
• Under section 5(3) of ISACJL, 2020 in the absence of any express provisions in the ISACJL, 2020, the Court has power to apply any procedure that will meet the justice of the case.
CHAPTER 2 (sections 8 to 36) deals with Arrest
The ISACJL has enlarged the canvass of interests protected in criminal matters from erstwhile three to four by making copious provisions for safeguarding the rights of suspects in criminal matters. These four protected interests are those of the suspect, the defendant, the State and the complainant.
• Chapter 2 provisions deal extensively with procedure for arrest, search of arrested person and restates the constitutionally guaranteed rights of a defendant in section 36 of the 1999 Constitution as amended.
• Specifically, section 9 of the ISACJL, 2020 provides that no person shall be arrested in the stead of another. This is good and commendable.
• Section 11(6) of ISACJL, 2020 provides for the first time that where a person or officer of any agency violates the provisions of the ISACJL in the course of an arrest and investigation, he shall be personally liable to pay compensation to the person(s) or any injured person(s) as may be determined by the court.
• The provisions of section 20(3) of the ISACJL, 2020 is clear on this and the compensation awarded the victim shall be paid by the direct deduction from the salary of the particular Police Officer. This will put a stop to malicious arrests and vexatious prosecution.
• Section 12(1) of ISACJL, 2020 contains a proviso that whenever it is necessary to search a person, the search shall be made by a person of the same gender with a sense of decency.
• Section 17(1)(d)(v) of ISACJL, 2020 authorise that when a person is arrested, his identification particulars like physical measurement, photograph, finger print impressions can be taken including but not limited to DNA samples. Section 17(2) of ISACJL, 2020 further provides that the process of recording shall be concluded within a reasonable time, not exceeding forty-eight hours. This is intended to check prolonged pre-trial detention in the guise of recording the personal data of the arrested person.
• Section 18(2) of ISACJL, 2020 provides that where a person arrested with or without warrant volunteers to make a confessional statement, the Police shall ensure that the making and taking of such statement is recorded on video or other retrievable electronic device. Where there is no video facility, the said statement shall be made in writing in the presence of a private legal practitioner or any other person of his choice. This is mandatory as the operative word used here is “shall”.
• The Legal practitioner or any other person referred to in section 18(2) above shall also endorse with his full particulars an indication of having witnessed the recording thereof.
• Section 19(1) of ISACJL, 2020 provides for the establishment of a Central Criminal Record Registry at the headquarters of the State Police Command. Under section 19(2) of ISACJL, it shall be the duty of the Chief Registrar of the Courts in Imo State to transmit the decision of the courts in all criminal trials at the Central Criminal Record Registry within sixty days of delivery of final judgment.
• Under section 19(3) of ISACJL, where there is default by the Chief Registrar to transmit the records within thirty days after judgment, this attracts appropriate disciplinary measures by the Judicial Service Commission while under section 19(7) of ISACJL, such a misconduct by a Police Officer or security officer shall be handled by the appropriate organ responsible for his disciplinary measures.
• Another novel provision relates to the establishment of Forensic Laboratory at the State Police Headquarters or any appropriate location under section 19(8) of the ISACJL, 2020.
• Section 31 of ISACJL, 2020 mandates the Commissioner of Police in Imo State and the head of every agency authorised by law to make arrest within the State to remit quarterly to the Attorney-General of Imo State, a record of all arrests made within the State with or without warrant failing which this is treated as a misconduct to be dealt with in accordance with applicable disciplinary procedure of the agency concerned.
• As a follow up, section 31(4) of ISACJL, 2020 mandates the Imo State Attorney-General to (shall) establish an electronic and manual database of all records of arrested persons in the State. Nothing is said on what will happen in the event of failure, refusal or neglect on the part of the office of Imo state Attorney General to maintain the said electronic and or manual database.
• Section 35(1) of ISACJL, 2020 requires a Police Officer in charge of a Police Station or an official in charge of an agency authorised to make arrest to report to the nearest or Supervising Magistrate on the last working day of every month all cases of persons arrested without warrant and to explain whether they have been admitted to bail or not and with detailed particulars of the arrested person in terms specified in section 17 of ISACJL, 2020.
• Under section 35(3) of the ISACJL, 2020 the Magistrate shall on receipt of the reports of arrest made without warrant forward them to the Imo State Justice Reform Sector established under section 526 of the ISACJL, 2020.
• Under section 35(5) of the ISACJL, 2020, where no report is made in accordance with section 35(1) of ISACJL, 2020, the Magistrate is still under a duty to still report to the Chief Judge and the Attorney-General for appropriate remedial action.
• Section 36 of ISACJL, 2020 empowers the Chief Magistrate or a designated Magistrate for that purpose by the Chief Judge within the Division to, at least every month, conduct an inspection of Police Stations or other places of detention within his territorial jurisdiction other than the Correctional Centre/facility (prisons). The numerous things the Magistrate can do to fastrack the administration of criminal justice on such monthly visit are listed in section 36(2) and (3) of ISACJL, 2020. Failure, refusal or neglect or default of an Officer in charge of a Police Station or official in charge of an agency authorized to make arrest to comply shall be treated as a misconduct to be dealt with by the Police or other authorities responsible for imposing disciplinary measures on the defaulting official.
CHAPTER 5 (sections 87- 120) deals with Bail and Recognizances.
• Section 87(1) of ISACJL, 2020 sets a twenty-four-hour timeline for admitting to bail by the detaining authority or agency of a person who has been taken into custody without a warrant for an offence other than an offence punishable with death if it will not be practicable to bring such person before a Magistrate having jurisdiction with respect to the offence charged. Where the offence appears to the officer to be of a serious nature, discharge the person upon his entering into a recognizance with or without sureties but if retained in custody, he shall be brought before a court having jurisdiction with respect to the offence or empowered to deal with such person within 24 hours whether or not police inquiries or investigation activities are completed.
• Section 89 of ISACJL, 2020 contains a clear-cut classification of bail to the effect that in offences punishable with death, only the High Court may admit to bail, in offences punishable with life imprisonment, bail may be granted by a Chief Magistrate and or a High Court. In other felonies punishable with other terms of imprisonment, bail may be granted by a Magistrates’ or a High Court.
• Creation of bail registers in the specific court, divisional bail register in all judicial divisions and central bail register at the State Judiciary Headquarters hosted in the Office of Director of Litigation is another novel provision found in section 89(d),(e) and (f) of ISACJL, 2020 which requires the maintenance a bail register showing details of the defendant, offence charged, the conditions of bail, names, addresses and particulars of sureties and other relevant information.
• Section 91 of ISACJL, 2020 imposes a novel duty on officers in charge of police stations to make quarterly reports to the nearest Magistrate of cases of all persons arrested without warrant within the limits of their respective stations disclosing whether such persons have been admitted to bail or not. The Magistrate shall notify the Chief Registrar of such report who shall forward the same to the Chief Judge for necessary action.
• Specifically, the law contains liberal provisions on granting bail. Thus, section 93(2) of ISACJL, 2020 enacts that where a person is charged with any felony other than a felony punishable with death, the court may, if it thinks fit, admit him to bail. Again, section 93(3) of ISACJL, 2020 enacts that for any other form of offence other than those relating to death, the court shall admit the defendant to bail, unless it sees good reason to the contrary.
• Section 97 of ISACJL, 2020 deals with sureties and specifically enacts in commendable novel terms in 97 (3) thereof that no person shall be denied or prevented from entering into any recognizance or standing surety or providing any security on the ground of gender. This is forward looking and consistent with Goal 5 of the SDG- Gender Equality.
• Section 119 of ISACJL, 2020 deals with powers of the Chief Judge to make a regulation for registration and licensing of corporate bodies or persons to act as Bondspersons within the jurisdiction of the court in which they are registered and creates an offence for contravention of the licence or engaging in bail bond services without registration and licence in section 119(3) of the ISACJL, 2020.
• Section 120 of ISACJL, 2020 empowers a Bondsperson to arrest a defendant or suspect who is absconding or who he believes is trying to evade or avoid appearance in court.
CHAPTER 6 (sections 121- 158) deals with Enforcing Appearance in Court of Defendant and Witnesses.
• One significant novel provision is the power of the Chief Judge of Imo State to make regulations or Practice Directions on the use of electronic mails in service of summons or other processes under the ISACJL, 2020. This is a significant milestone or window that can be used to usher in e-practice in criminal proceedings.
• Section 148 of ISACJL, 2020 deals with power to dispense with personal attendance of defendant in certain cases. Section 148(1) of ISACJL, 2020 provides that “Whenever a court issues a summons in respect of any offence for which the penalty is a fine not exceeding ten thousand Naira or imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months or both, the court, on application of the defendant: (a) may dispense with the personal attendance of the defendant where the offence is punishable by fine or imprisonment or both; and (b) shall dispense with personal attendance of the defendant where the offence is punishable by fine only, if the defendant pleads guilty in writing and so pleads through his legal practitioner or agent.”
• Section 152(1) is emphatic that the State shall bear expenses for medical and other bodily examination. Hence, section 152(3) of ISACJL, 2020 makes it a criminal offence for medical personnel appointed to conduct a medical examination including autopsy to refuse to do so or demands any payment from either the complainant or defendant. Upon conviction, such a medical personnel shall be liable to two months’ imprisonment or two hundred thousand Naira fine in lieu of imprisonment or both.
• Section 153(1) of ISACJL, 2020 establishes a special unit in the office of the Chief Registrar of the High Court called Witness Support Unit with detailed responsibilities as listed in section 153(2) of ISACJL, 2020.
CHAPTER 7 (sections 158 to 166) deals with Remand in Certain Cases.
• Section 158 of ISACJL, 2020 provides that where bail is refused or not granted to the defendant, the court shall as far as practicable hear the matter from day to day. Note this novel provision against the momentous provision of section 257(1) of ISACJL, 2020 that “Upon arraignment, the trial of the defendant shall proceed from day-to-day until the conclusion of the trial”.
CHAPTER 9 (sections 167 to 172) deals with Control of Criminal Proceedings.
• This restates the general powers of the Attorney-General to enter nolle prosequi in criminal proceedings at different stages of the trial in sections 168 and 169 of ISACJL, 2020. However, a novel provision is found in section 170 of ISACJL, 2020 where a Law Officer may, where any charge of an indictable offence is being proceeded with summarily by a Magistrate, by a directive in writing under his hand, apply to such Magistrate to stop further proceedings and to transmit the case file and all statements and documents in the case to the Attorney- General for the purpose of preparing the proof of evidence in respect of the charge with a view to preferring an information.
CHAPTER 10 (sections 173 to 192) deals with Institution of Criminal Cases generally.
• Section 180(2) of ISACJL, 2020 require that the charge sheet filed by the prosecution shall be served on the defendant within seven days of its being filed or such time as the court may allow and under section 180(3) of ISACJL, 2020 the trial before a Magistrate Court shall commence not later than thirty days from the date of filing the charge and be concluded within a reasonable time. Any default in keeping to the allowed timeline of thirty days for commencement of trial or completion of trial of charge outside the timeline allowed in section 258 of ISACJL, 2020 shall be reported to the Chief Judge and the reasons for failure adduced for further directive of the Chief Judge.
• Section 181 of ISACJL, 2020 prescribes novel provisions on front loading of processes in the Magistrate Court. Under section 181 (1) of ISACJL, 2020, upon filing the charge sheet in the Magistrate Court, the prosecution shall serve on the Defendant or his Counsel all documents and description of material exhibits it intends to rely on in the prosecution of the case and under section 182(2) of ISACJL, 2020, the Defendant shall serve on the Prosecution on demand all documents and materials it intends to rely on for his defence within fourteen days of service on him by the Prosecution.
• With respect to prosecution of offences, section 182 of ISACJL, 2020 regulates who can prosecute offences in any court in Imo State but whittles down and limits the power of a Member of the Nigerian Police with respect to offences, which on conviction may be punished with imprisonment not exceeding one year under section 182(d) of ISACJL, 2020. Furthermore, prosecution can be undertaken by any other person authorised by law in the State to prosecute offences under such law.
• Section 192(a)(i) and (ii) of ISACJL, 2020 restates that trials shall be he held in the High Court only on the information filed by a Law Officer or a Private Prosecutor or Legal Practitioner in the Nigeria Police force or by the Attorney-General.
• Under section 183(1) of ISACJL, 2020 the State Controller of Correctional Services shall make quarterly returns to the Chief Judge and to the Attorney-General of all persons awaiting trial held in custody within the State for a period beyond 180 days from the date of arraignment.
CHAPTER 14 (sections 223 to 232) deals with Remand and Other Interlocutory Proceedings.
• While section 223 of ISACJL, 2020 authorise that applications for remand may be brought in cases of offences which the Magistrate has no jurisdiction to grant bail, it is significant to note that section 225 of ISACJL, 2020 provide expressly that the same Court may, in considering an application for remand brought under section 223 of ISACJL, 2020, grant bail to the Defendant. This is revolutionary.
• In the event where the Magistrate is minded to remand in prison custody under section 224 following an application brought under section 223 of ISACJL, 2020, section 226 of ISACJL, 2020 provides a robust time protocol for remand orders as follows:
(1) The order shall be for a period not exceeding fourteen days in the first instance, and the case shall be adjourned to a date not exceeding fourteen days.
(2) By an application in writing showing good cause for an extension of the remand period, the court may make an order for further remand of the person or a period not exceeding fourteen days.
(3) Where the person is still in custody on remand at the expiration of the fourteen day period in the first instance or additional extension of fourteen days in the second instance, the Court may on the application of the person grant bail upon such conditions as the Court may deem fit.
(4) At the expiration of the remand order in terms envisaged in either in (1) or
(2) above, and if the person is still remanded with his trial having not commenced, or charge having not been filed at the relevant court having jurisdiction, the Court shall issue a hearing notice to the Commissioner of Police or any other law enforcement agency concerned and the Attorney-General of the State and adjourn the matter within a period not exceeding fourteen days of the expiration of the period of remand order, to inquire as to the position of the case and for the Commissioner of Police or the Attorney-General to show cause why the person should not be released unconditionally.
- Where the Commissioner of Police or Attorney-General shows good cause as demanded in (4) above and make a request to that effect, the Court may extend the remand of the person to be arraigned for trial before an appropriate Court or Tribunal and the case shall be adjourned to a date not exceeding fourteen days from the date the hearing notice was issued in line with (4) above.
(6) Where good cause is not shown for the continued remand of the person pursuant to section 226(4) of ISACJL, 2020, or where the person is still on remand custody after the extended period, the Court shall, with or without an application to effect (suo motu), forthwith discharge the person on such condition(s) as the Magistrate may deem fit in the circumstances.
(7) Conclusively, no further application for remand shall be entertained after the proceedings in section 226(6) of ISACJL, 2020.
CHAPTER 16 (sections 251 to 268) deals with Notice of Trial.
Other revolutionary provisions of the ISACJL, 2020 are found in sections 257 relating to time for raising certain objections, day to day trials and adjournments.
• Specifically, section 257(2) of ISACJL, 2020 ISACJL, 2020 provides that an objection to the information or charge may be taken before the plea of the Defendant. Thereafter, all objections to the charge shall be taken at the final address.
• Under section 257(3) of ISACJL, 2020 any interlocutory appeal in respect of an objection taken before plea shall not operate as a stay of proceedings in the trial court while under section 257(4) of ISACJL, 2020 upon arraignment, trial will proceed from day-to- day until conclusion of the trial.
• Where day-to-day trial is impracticable, after arraignment, each party shall be entitled to not more than two adjournments, and there shall not be more than two adjournments at the instance of the Court: provided that no adjournment during the trial shall exceed 14 days inclusive of weekends.
• Novel “Time standards” are set for criminal proceedings in the Court under section 258 of the ISACJL, 2020 as follows:
(a) for capital offences, a maximum of 540 (five hundred and forty) days;
(b) for other offences triable on information, a maximum period
of 360 (three hundred and sixty) days;
(c) for all summary trials, a maximum period of 180 (one hundred and eighty) days;
(d) for bail applications, a maximum period of 30 (thirty) days;
(e) for all other interlocutory applications, a maximum period of 90 (ninety) days.
However, these timelines are not cast in stone as under section 259(1) of ISACJL, 2020 the Court may, on cogent reasons being adduced, extend time if the case is not concluded within the stipulated time standards but the extension period will not exceed half of the period originally provided.
• Section 268(1) of ISACJL, 2020 provides that trials in the High Court may be recorded electronically retrievable audio visual means such that where a trial Judge is unable to conclude a trial, another Judge may be assigned to conclude the proceedings without having to start de novo; provided that non-recording of proceedings shall not vitiate a valid trial while the transcript of the electronic recording of the proceedings of the court shall be produced and signed by the Judge and such signed transcript shall constitute proper signing of the record book of the court.
CHAPTER 17 (sections 269 to 282) deals with Preparation and Use
of Proofs of Evidence.
• Section 269(1) of ISACJL, 2020 abolished all forms of Preliminary Inquiry or Preliminary Investigation into a criminal charge by a Magistrate or any court in Imo State and replaced them with preparation of proofs of evidence for the purpose of determining whether or not an information may be preferred.
For additional emphasis, section 270 of the ISACJL, 2020 clearly lists the charges where proofs of evidence “shall” be prepared to be (a) capital offences; (b) offence punishable with imprisonment for life; and (c) any indictable offence in respect of which the defendant has elected to be tried by the High Court under section 272 of ISACJL, 2020.
• Under section 275 of ISACJL, 2020, in prosecuting a case at the Magistrate Court, the prosecution shall file (a) a statement of witnesses and the document it wishes to rely on and list of exhibits; (b) the prosecution will give oral evidence in-chief and be cross-examined while section 276 of ISACJL, 2020 contain elaborate steps to be taken by the Magistrate for the verification of statement of witness(es).
CHAPTER 19 (sections 335 to 347) deals with Description of Property and Persons in The Court Process.
• A significant provision in this chapter is found in section 342 of ISACJL, 2020 which provides that “property belonging to a woman who has contracted a marriage under the Marriage Act or a marriage under native law and custom may be stated as belonging to such married woman”.
CHAPTER 26 (sections 372 to 377) deals with Addresses.
• Section 377 of ISACJL, 2020 contain a revolutionary provision to the effect that “Subject to the provisions of the Constitution, an application for stay of proceedings in respect of a criminal matter brought before the Court shall not be entertained until judgment is delivered.” This is a bombshell provision that is analogous to section 306 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015. It can be likened to a provision “loved by Judges and hated by defence lawyers” as it does not tolerate ambush and delays in criminal proceedings.
CHAPTER 28 (sections 385 to 387) deals with Sentences.
• Significantly, section 387 of ISACJL, 2020 makes copious provision for suspended sentence to the effect that when a person is convicted of an offence, the court may, instead of passing sentence, release the offender upon his entering into his own recognizance, with or without sureties, in such sum as the court may think fit, on the condition that he shall appear and receive sentence at some future sitting of court or when called upon.
CHAPTER 32 (sections 433 to 446) deals with Costs, Compensation and Damages
• Under section 433 of ISACJL, 2020 the court has power, during the proceedings or while passing judgment, to order the Defendant to pay a sum of money as compensation to any person injured by the offence or a bonafide purchaser for value without notice of defect of the title to any property or defraying medical expenses incurred in medical treatment of a person injured by the defendant in connection with the offence.
• Section 435 of ISACJL 2020 vests the Court with the power to order restitution and under section 436 of ISACJL the Court can order a private prosecutor to pay to the defendant such reasonable costs as the Court may deem fit.
CHAPTER 34 (sections 448 to 469) deals with Probation and Non-Custodial Alternatives
• Section 462 of ISACJL, 2020 confers on the court power to impose suspended sentence or order the offender to perform Community Service except where the offence involves the use of violent weapon or firearm.
• Section 463 of ISACJL, 2020 mandates the Chief Judge to establish in every Judicial Division a Community Service Centre to be headed by a Registrar as well as outlines the functions of the Community Service Centre and allied matters.
CHAPTER 35 (section 470) deals with Parole.
• As part of the aggressive measures to decongest Correctional Centres and facilities, section 470 of ISACJL, 2020 empowers the Court to direct, in appropriate cases, the release of prisoner before completion of sentence.
CHAPTER 36 (section 471) deals with Punishment for Child Offenders
• In section 471 of ISACJL, 2020 the provisions of the ISACJL, 2020 were EXPRESSLY made subject to the Child Rights Law.
CHAPTER 38 (section 484 to 485) deals with Detention During Governor’s Pleasure
• Section 484 of the ISACJL, 2020 provides that where any person is ordered to be detained during the Governor’s Pleasure he shall notwithstanding anything in the ISACJL, 2020 or contained in any other written law liable to be detained in such place and under such conditions as the Governor may direct and whilst so detained shall be in proper custody.
• Section 485(1) of ISACJL, 2020 enacts that a person detained during the Governor’s pleasure may at any time be discharged by the Governor on license which said license may be in such form and in such conditions as the Governor may direct under section 485(2).
• Finally, in section 485(3) of the ISACJL, 2020 a license may at any time be revoked or varied by the Governor and where license has been revoked, the person to whom the person the license relates shall proceed to such place as the Governor may direct and if he fails to do so, may be arrested without warrant and taken to such place.
No doubt these provisions of section 484 of ISACJL, 2020 are not only draconian but scandalous as they vest too much farcical and absolute powers on the Governor contrary to the express provisions of the International Bill of Rights, the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria as amended. It is left to see how these kinds of monstrous provisions that do not deserve any pride of place in a democratic society and rule of law setting will survive the long standing decisions of the courts, especially the apex Supreme Court of Nigeria, that the human rights and fundamental freedoms of the citizen guaranteed in Chapter IV of the 1999 Constitution as amended are sacrosanct, inalienable, inderogable and imprescriptible.
CHAPTER 41 (section 504 to 513) deals with Trial by Corporation and allied matters.
• Section 504 of ISACJL, 2020 elaborates on application of the entire chapter while section 505 is interprets the term “representative” of a corporation while section 506 of ISACJL, 2020 how a corporation may enter its plea when called upon to plead to any charge or information. Sections 507, 508, 509, 510, 511. 512 and 513 of ISACJL, 2020 explain other procedural steps that may be taken in trial of corporations.
CHAPTER 44 (sections 526 to 533) deals with The Justice Sector Reform
The establishment of the Imo State Justice Sector Reform Team is another new provision of Chapter 44 of the ISACJL, 2020 to help monitor and achieve the objectives of the ISACJL, 2020 as well as improve on the justice delivery system.
• Specifically, section 526 of ISACJL, 2020 creates the ISJSRT and outlines its membership to be taken from a broad spectrum of relevant stakeholders while its sundry functions, secretariat of the team, officers of the team and their duties, funds and accounts, annual report, power to obtain Information, and power of the team to make rules or any standing orders regulating its proceedings are listed in sections 527, 528, 529, 530, 531, 532, and 533 of ISACJL 2020 respectively.
CHAPTER 46 (section 535) deals with Revision.
• Section 535 of ISACJL, 2020 provides that the ISACJL, 2020 shall be reviewed not later than ten (10) years from the time of commencement
On the face value, prima facie, the provisions of the ISACJL, 2020 are forward looking, progressive and commendable. There are no perfect laws and the ISACJL, 2020 is no exception. Until legal provisions survive judicial scrutiny, there is little or nothing to celebrate. Hence, the attitude of the courts via its decisions on, observing and ensuring the observance of the lofty provisions of the ISACJL, 2020 will determine how potent, pragmatic and durable the myriads of its innovative provisions are. The unique provisions of the ISACJL, 2020 highlighted above clearly demonstrate that although the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015 may have influenced its promulgation and some of its provisions, the ISACJL, 2020 is not a simplistic recopy of the ACJA, 2015 as the former contain many provisions that are a radical departure from the provisions of the ACJA, 2015.
Going forward, it is suggested that more awareness be created in the polity to sensitize the ordinary citizens and other levels of operators and stakeholders about the existence of the ground breaking provisions of the ISACJL, 2020. A law is useless and a mere academic compilation gathering dust in the shelves if the citizens are not aware of its existence and cannot call its provisions in aid to settle matters in the conflictual society we live in. The absence of online (soft copy) version of ISACJL, 2020 more than six months after it came into existence is not an encouraging evidence that there is a readiness and willingness to embrace the regime of electronic hearing contemplated under that law and as a contemporary desideratum. Reference to “Government prison” in section 161 of ISACJL, 2020 should necessarily refer to a Correctional Facility maintained by the Correctional Services.
The sprinkle of editorial oversight and typographical or printer’s errors found in the ISACJL, 2020 should be sorted out and streamlined and a reliable and accurate version hosted online for public information and guidance. The novel and ambitious provisions of the ISACJL relating to things like maintaining of Central Criminal Record Registry, filing of Quarterly Reports, maintaining of Case Management Register, establishment of Community Service Centre in every Judicial Division manned by Registrars who are Legal Practitioners and actualising the aims and objectives of setting up of the Justice Sector Reform Team will go to waste if there is inadequate funding to bring them to fruition.
Conclusively, the introduction of the phenomenal ISACJL, 2020 in the administration of criminal justice sector in Imo State is a practical demonstration that a new normal is possible!