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CJN’s panel member, Daudu, faults Supreme Court’s anti-delay judgment

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Ade Adesomoju, Abuja

A former President of the Nigerian Bar Association, Mr. Joseph Daudu, and some other Senior Advocates of Nigeria are not comfortable with the new regime where accused can no longer have their trials suspended while their appeals against the charges instituted against them are pending before the Court of Appeal or the Supreme Court.

Daudu, through his law firm, on Friday, organised a seminar where he and some SANs criticised the judgment of the Supreme Court which prohibits courts from hearing or granting an application for stay of proceedings in criminal cases on the grounds of pending appeals.

The Supreme Court had in the said judgment delivered on June 9, 2017, in respect of the ongoing trial of a former National Publicity Secretary of the Peoples Democratic Party, Mr Olisa Metuh, before the Federal High Court in Abuja, validated Section 306 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015, which outlawed stay of proceedings in criminal trials.

Section 306 of ACJA is part of the innovations put in the new law to tackle delays often suffered by high profile corruption cases.

Granting of stay of proceedings pending appeal before the advent of ACJA in 2015 stalled a number of criminal cases involving the likes of former governors of Abia, Taraba, Plateau states, Orji Kalu, Jolly Nyame, and Joshua Dariye, respectively, for about eight years before the trials resumed in 2016.

But Daudu, a member of the Corruption and Financial Crime Cases Trial Monitoring Committee inaugurated by the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnogen, in November last year to tackle corruption and financial crimes cases, said the advent of ACJA seemed to have abolished “our basic constitutional principles”.

Without a specific reference to the Supreme Court’s judgment validating Section 306 of ACJA, Daudu said in his opening remarks that courts had relinquished their inherent powers “to overbearing legislative enactment”.

He said,”The advent of the ACJA, 2015, seems to have been received as a complete abolition of our basic constitutional principles.

“The present day judiciary seems to have taken a step closer towards the state and distant from the defence.

“The situation has further degenerated to a state where the courts have relinquished their inherent powers to overbearing legislative enactment.

“There is today a proliferation of Penal statutes designed to stifle basic constitutional rights to fair hearing; free speech, liberty of persons; ownership of property and the likes.

“Today, the Nigerian judiciary has no hesitation limiting the constitutional rights of citizens in the face of any criminal allegation no matter how little.”

He noted that the advent of the new law had removed “the requirement of prima facie case”, and as a result “the state seems to have gone amok with criminal prosecution”.

He added, “Presently, defendants stand trial for baseless criminal indictments while others suffer severe breaches of their right to a fair hearing.

“The situation is further worsened where the constitutional right to seek redress in an appellate court is rendered immaterial by statutory limitations enacted to directly destroy the status quo of the case of the parties pending appeal.”

Keynote speaker, Mr D. C. Dewingwe (SAN), also echoed the fears expressed by Daudu, saying the judiciary had in the judgment in Metuh’s case yielded some of its powers to the legislature.

Akinseye-George (SAN)

He said the judgment of the Supreme Court in which it ruled that it lacked the power to stay criminal proceedings, could not be justified within the combined ambit of sections 1(1) and (3), 6(6)(a) and (b) and 36(4) of the constitution”.

He noted that the apex court acknoweleged in the judgment in Metuh’s case that “stay of execution and stay of proceedings pending appeal are dependent on the discretionary powers of the court…”

He, however, regretted that “their lordships” in the same judgment “exposed themselves (with all due respect) to the suspicion that they yielded and ceded their judicial powers intentionally and calculatedly vested in them by sections 6 and 36 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) to the legislature.”

He cautioned that “the other arms of government will never stop their attempt to test the depth of the judicial waters” and that “every ground they gain in their expedition will lay a dangerous foundation for further subversion of the dignity of the human person of the citizen”.

He called on the apex court to “find the earliest occasion to revisit and better clarify its decision in Metuh Vs. FRN (Supra).”

Another contributor, Dr J.O Olatoke (SAN), advocated that the Section 306 of ACJA be outrightly expunged from the law.

Another lawyer, Mr Emmanuel Ukala (SAN), while faulting the Supreme Court on the Metuh’s case, argued that the apex court merely danced to public opinion.

He equally argued that Section 306 of the ACJA was unconstitutional.

He said should the society desire Section 306 so badly, it must first amend the Constitution.

A former Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Chief Kanu Agabi (SAN),  called for caution in the quest for speedy trial of criminal cases.

Agabi, who is defending a number of corruption cases including the ones involving the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki and a former Governor of Adamawa State, Murtala Nyako,  said the right of appeal guaranteed by the Constitution, must not be regarded as unnecessary, because the judges, as human beings, were not immune to committing errors.

He argued that, since the law presumes the defendant innocent until the opposite is proved, the sympathy of the society, including the Judiciary must be towards the defendant.

He added, “We cannot afford to be in a hurry in the administration of justice to avoid making mistakes.”

But a professor of Law and President of Centre for Socio-Legal Studies, Yemi Akinseye-George (SAN), urged the Supreme Court to stick to its judgment on Section 306 of ACJA

He noted that prior to the judgment “the Nigerian criminal justice system had literally become a failed system principally on account of its painful and pathetic inability to conclude High Profile Criminal Cases, particularly those involving politically-exposed persons”.

He noted that there had been no evidence that the judgment foistered injustice on Metuh.

He added, “The ruling of the Supreme Court in Metuh has restored the dignity, integrity and agility of the Nigerian criminal justice system.

“The apex court has rightly upheld Section 306 of the ACJA as a veritable instrument for curbing the abuse of Stay of Proceedings and interlocutory criminal appeals.

“The ruling is well-founded in law and logic.

“It suppresses the notorious mischief of delay of criminal proceedings while advancing the objective of the ACJA 2015:  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.”

Also, another SAN, Dipo Okpeseyi, who is a prosecution lawyer in one of the cases against the detained former National Security Adviser, Col. Sambo Dasuki (retd.), agreed with Akinseye-George.

 He was also of the view that Section 306 of the ACJA did not take away the defendant’s right to fair-hearing, and that there is no conflict between the provision and Section36 (4) of the Constitution.

He added, “The rights of a man cannot be protected by unlimited duration.

“The Constitution said trial must be within a reasonable time.  Because of the inordinate delay in the judicial process, the society is losing confidence in the judiciary.

“If the Supreme Court sees a conflict, it will strike it down. Section 306 is only designed to cure the mischief of long criminal trials in Nigeria.”

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