The Abuja Branch of the Nigerian Bar Association in conjunction with the Centre for Socio-Legal Studies (CSLS) organised a capacity-building workshop for young lawyers with the theme “Trends in Criminal Justice Administration and The Anti-Corruption Fight”.
The President of the Centre for Socio-Legal Studies (CSLS) Professor Yemi Akinseye George, SAN in his welcome and keynote address stated that the enactment of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) is a great improvement on previous legislations on procedural laws and the administration of criminal justice system including the Administration of Criminal Justice (Repeal and Reenactment) Law of Lagos State 2011”.
He however added that several years after the coming into effect of the Act, the criminal justice system continues to experience delays and congestions.
The campaign promises of the incoming president, Olumide Akpata inspire some hope. Let’s seize this opportunity to remind him of one of them: “The NBA under my administration shall also partner with statutory bodies such as the Nigerian Judiciary, the Legal Aid Council of Nigeria, the Nigerian Police, the Nigerian Correctional Service and other stakeholders in the Nigerian Criminal Justice Sector, as well as international partners/donor agencies to undertake a holistic reform agenda of the Criminal Justice System in Nigeria”.
Professor Akinseye SAN also stated that the Centre for Socio-Legal Studies commits to working with the NBA in the area of criminal justice reform and allied areas.
He also addressed the role of the Legal profession in making the ACJA functional where he stated that the provisions cannot be properly implemented without the cooperation of the legal profession as the effectiveness or otherwise of the ACJA depends on the legal profession: judges, registrars, prosecutors and legal practitioners.
Furthermore, he said that unless the legal profession reinvents itself and return to original nobility and integrity for which it was reputed, the confidence of the majority of Nigerians in the profession will continue to decline. The leaders of the profession must be worried that many young lawyers are out of work and several others who are working are poorly paid. Clients now prefer to pay bribes to officials including to the law enforcement agencies rather than pay decent legal fees to hard-working lawyers. He therefore urged that we lawyers must see the law beyond the narrow confines of our personal economic interests. We should apply ourselves not merely to the task of using the law to defend our clients, we should also contribute to the task of developing the criminal justice system and legal system generally through development lawyering. Developing lawyering is the practice whereby lawyers serve as agents of change and development.
He identified delay tactics used by lawyers to include petitions against judges, indiscriminate applications to recall prosecution witnesses; protracted cross examination of witnesses, application to call unavailable witnesses whose presence may not be really be needed but calculated to sensationalize trials of high profile politically-exposed defendants.
All these shenanigans continue to frustrate the due administration of justice. He also added that some prosecutors are equally not helping matters when they go to court without adequate preparation for their cases.
The legal profession must unite to reverse the downward slide by the profession and the criminal justice system manifested in the palpable inability to conclude cases bordering on accountability initiated against high profile defendants and politically-exposed persons. There is urgent need not merely for continuing legal education but re-education and re-orientation of investigators, prosecutors, defence lawyers and judges.
Professor Akinseye SAN concludes by stating that the NBA must take the front seat in demanding serious reform and transparency in the mode of appointment of Judges. As judges cannot speak for themselves, the NBA and the Body of Senior Advocates of Nigeria (BOSAN) must take up the government on the issue of poor working conditions of judges at all levels of our courts.
He also said that the NBA must put its house in order and rise up to the challenge of protecting hard-working judges, investigators and prosecutors from politicians and the high profile defendants who would go to any extent to weaken, intimidate, or compromise the criminal justice system.
The Chairman of NBA Abuja Branch, Dr. Hauwa Shekarau in her welcome remark stated that the essence of this workshop is to build the capacity of young lawyers who are catalyst for change in the society. She added that the Branch is committed to carrying all members along and this workshop is only the first of more to come as there will be more partnerships on capacity building for lawyers in all areas of practice.
The workshop was declared open by the Chief Judge of the High Court of the FCT, Hon. Justice Ishaq Usman Bello and he encouraged young lawyers to be instrumental in ensuring that justice prevails.