The Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015 (ACJA)

The Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015 (ACJA)

INTRODUCTION

The Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015 (ACJA) is unmistakably the hottest Law in Nigeria presently and it is without doubt due to its wide applicability and revolutionary nature. The Law comes in handy for both lawyers and non-lawyers.

The Act which was signed into law in May 2015, has a 495-section law divided into 49 parts, providing for the administration of criminal justice and for related matters in the courts of the Federal Capital Territory and other Federal Courts in Nigeria.  With the ACJA, Nigeria now has a unique and unified law applicable in all federal courts and with respect to offences contained in Federal Legislations. The law repeals the erstwhile Criminal Procedure Act as applied in the South and the Criminal Procedure (Northern states) Act, which applied in the North and the Administration of Justice Commission Act.

The ACJA, by merging the major provisions of the two principal criminal justice legislations in Nigeria, that is CPA and CPC, preserves the existing criminal procedures while introducing new provisions that will enhance the efficiency of the justice system and help fill the gaps observed in these laws over the course of several decades.

The law has been described as the much awaited revolution in the criminal justice arena as the criminal justice system existing before the coming into force of this law has lost its capacity to respond quickly to the needs of the society, check the rising waves of crime, speedily bring criminals to book and protect the victims of crime.

Section 1 of the ACJA is overtly apt in explaining the purpose of the Act thus: The purpose of this Act is to ensure that the system of administration of criminal justice in Nigeria promotes efficient management of criminal justice institutions, speedy dispensation of justice, protection of the society from crime and protection of the rights and interests of the suspect, the defendant, and the victim.

One essential feature of the ACJA is its paradigm shift from punishment as the main goal of the criminal justice to restorative justice which pays serious attention to the needs of the society, the victims, vulnerable persons and human dignity generally. The general tone of the Act puts human dignity in the fore, from the adoption of the word defendant instead of accused, to its provision for humane treatment during arrest[1], to its numerous provisions for speedy trial, to suspended sentencing[2], community service[3], parole[4], compensation to victims of crime[5] and so-on.

A PEEP INTO ADMINISTRATION OF CRIMINAL JUSTICE ACT, 2015

The ACJ Act has 495 Sections through which its tentacles spread across every major aspect of criminal justice system. In fact, the Act regulates more than just criminal procedure; it covers, in most part, the entire criminal justice process from arrest, investigation, trial, custodial matters and sentencing guidelines. It is about all things criminal, from the cradle to the grave. We shall take a look at some of the innovative provisions of the Act which we consider to be landmark issues as follows:

1.       UNLAWFUL ARRESTS

This is one of the provisions of the Act that every Nigerian should be grateful for. By section 10(1) of the CPA, the police could arrest without a warrant, any person who has no ostensible means of sustenance and who cannot give a satisfactory account of himself. This particular provision has been greatly abused by the police who use it as a ground to arrest people indiscriminately and has been deleted by the ACJ Act. Now, police cannot arrest persons in lieu of suspects[6], where actual arrest is carried out; a suspect is entitled to notification of cause of Arrest[7] and shall be accorded humane treatment, having regard to dignity of his person.[8]

Similarly, long gone is the era in which police dabble into civil matters or even simple contracts and use their power of arrest as a weapon to intimidate and oppress a lot of innocent Nigerians. By virtue of the ACJ Act, it is now illegal for the police to arrest persons over civil wrongs and contracts[9].

2.      PLEA BARGAIN [10]

Under the Act, plea bargain means the process in criminal proceedings whereby the defendant and the prosecution work out a mutually acceptable disposition of the case; including the plea of the defendant to a lesser offence than that charged in the complaint or information and in conformity with other conditions imposed by the prosecution, in return for a lighter sentence than that for the higher charge subject to the Court’s approval[11]. The Act empowers the prosecution to enter into plea bargain with the defendant, with the consent of the victim during or after the presentation of the evidence of the prosecution, but before the presentation of the evidence of the defence. This provision of the law helps in quick dispensation of justice and saves the time and resources that would have been wasted in trial.

3.      TRIAL OF CORPORATION [12]

In times past, a company could not be said to commit a crime as the law requires the presence of mens rea and actus reus to ground a charge of crime. Thus, this twin requirement has continuously shielded corporate entities from criminal liability over the years. However, by virtue of the provision of the Act,[13] a corporation can now be tried for criminal matters through its representative. A company is now treated as an adult ‘defendant’ ‘for any of­fence’ without exception[14].

4.      SUSPENDED SENTENCE AND COMMUNITY SERVICE [15]

The Act, in pursuance of its reformative and restorative approach, provided that a court, having regard to the need to reduce congestion in prisons; rehabilitate prisoners by making them to undertake productive work; and prevent convict who commit simple offences from mixing with hardened criminals may, with or without conditions, suspend a convict’s sentence in which case, the convict shall not be required to serve the sentence in accordance with the conditions of the suspension or the convict may be sentenced to specified service in his community or such community or place as the court may direct. Provided however, that the offence for which the convict was tried does not involve the use of arms or offensive weapon, or for an offence which the punishment exceeds imprisonment for a term of three years.

5.     SPEEDY TRIAL

The ACJA in amplifying the provisions of the constitution to ensure speedy dispensation of justice makes the following provisions among others:

a. Stay of proceedings [16]

The new position of the law now is that application for stay of proceedings shall no longer be heard in respect of a criminal matter before the court. This unprecedented provision puts a gag on the delays occasioned to the trial process by interlocutory applications to stay proceedings pending appeal on preliminary matters even when the substantive issues are yet to be tried on the merits.

b. Day-to-day trial [17]

Upon arraignment, the trial of the defendant shall proceed from day-to-day until the conclusion of the trial. Where day-to-day trial is impracticable, the Act provides that parties shall be entitled to only five adjournments each. The interval between each adjournment, according to the Act, shall not exceed two weeks each. Where the trial is still not concluded, the interval for adjournments will be reduced to seven days each.

c. Assignment of information and issuance of notice of trial [18]

By virtue of this section, information filed are to be assigned to courts by the Chief Judge within fifteen days and the Judge in turn, is to issue notice of trial within ten working days of the assignment of the information to his court.

d. Objection to the validity of charge [19]

Any objection to the validity of the charge or information raised by the defendant shall only be considered along with the substantive issues and a ruling thereon made at the time of delivery of judgement.

6.      WOMEN SURETIES [20]

This is one of the provisions of the Act that has been lauded the most. This is because it has finally laid to rest the long-standing controversy as to whether a woman can stand surety for a bail applicant. The law provides that “no person shall be denied, prevented or restricted from entering into any recognition or Standing as surety for any defendant or application on the ground only that the person is a woman”.[21]

7.       ELECTRONIC RECORDING OF CONFESSIONAL STATEMENTS [22]

A number of criminal cases are bedevilled with denial of confessional statements. It is either the defendant is denying ever making the statement or alleging that the statement was made under duress or other such vitiating factors. This often leads the court to suspend trial of the substantive matter to conduct what is called trial within trial. This takes an awful length of time and even at times leads to the confessional statement being set aside. This is largely due to the fact that the confessional statements are merely in writing. The ACJA, in conformity with the provision of the Evidence Act 2011[23], now provides that a Confessional Statement may be made by means of an electronic recording in a retrievable video compact disc or such other audio-visual means[24].

8.      PROSECUTION OF OFFENCES

Another interesting feature of the Act is Section 106 of the Act which makes the prosecution of cases the exclusive preserve of lawyers. In effect, police personnel who are not lawyers have lost the right to prosecute. This provision has been said to impliedly suspend section 23 of the Police Act which empowers police officers to prosecute matters in court. This section also by extension, overrules the Supreme Court decision in FRN v Osahon (2006) 5 NWLR (Pt. 973). To a very large extent, this is a welcomed development because a lot of cases are being mismanaged in court by the police officers due to lack of diligent prosecution.

9.       REMAND TIME LIMIT [25]

Our prison cells are jam-packed today not just because of the number of convicts serving actual jail terms, but largely because of a huge number of suspects been remanded in those prisons. Suspects are being remanded at will and sometimes indefinitely. However, by the provision of ACJA[26], a suspect shall not be remanded for more than 14 days at first instance and renewable for a time not exceeding fourteen days where “good cause” is shown. At the expiration of the remand order, if Legal Advice is still not issued, the court shall issue hearing note to the Inspector General of Police and Attorney General of the Federation or the Commissioner of Police or any other authority in whose custody the suspect is remanded to inquire into the position of things and adjourn for another period not exceeding fourteen days for the above mentioned officials to come and explain why the suspect should not be released unconditionally.

10.   COMPENSATION TO VICTIMS OF CRIME

Generally in criminal matters where the defendant is found guilty of the alleged crime, the only ‘remedy’ was sentencing. Victims of crimes are often neglected and left without any form of compensation. The ACJA has however brought succor to victims of crime by broadening the powers of the court to award commensurate compensation in deserving cases to victims of crime[27].

Further, the Act provides that a court may, within the proceedings or when passing judgment, order the convict to pay compensation to any person injured by the offence, a bonafide purchaser for value, or for defraying expenses incurred on medical treatment of a victim injured by the convict in connection with the offence[28].

This is a very commendable provision of the law in that it does not only seek to punish the offender, but also to ameliorate the hardship occasioned by the commission of the offence thus, serving justice in both ways.

CONCLUSION

By and large, the provisions of the Act are geared towards curing most of the anomalies and lacuna in the existing criminal laws. But as we all know, in Nigeria, the problem is always not with the law but with the implementation of the law. This new law is very progressive, timely and in conformity with international best practices and we sincerely hope that it will be well implemented to give life to the dream justice system that the legislators have in mind for Nigeria.

Source: Law Pavillion
 
[1] Section 8(1) Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015
[2] Section 460(1) Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015
[3] Section 460(2) Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015
[4] Section 468 Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015
[5] Section 314; 319 Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015
[6] Section 7 Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015
[7] Section 6 Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015
[8] Section 8(1) Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015
[9] Section 8(2) Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015
[10] Section 270 Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015
[11] Section 494 Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015
[12] Section 477 Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015
[13] Section 477 Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015
[14] Section 484 Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015
[15] Section 460 Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015
[16] Section 306 Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015
[17] Section 396 Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015
[18] Section 382 Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015
[19] Section 396(2) Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015
[20] Section 167 (3) Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015
[21] Section 167 (3) Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015
[22] Section 15 (4) Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015
[23] Section 29 thereof
[24] Section 15 (4) Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015
[25] Section 296 Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015
[26] Section 296 thereof
[27] Section 314 Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015
[28] Section 319 (1) Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015

Source: Law Pavillion