Saturday, April 19, 2014

New law targets freeing 30,000 prisoners awaiting trial

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An amendment to existing law, the legislation has passed a second reading.

A new federal law will order the release of prisoners awaiting trial for too long in Nigeria’s overcrowded jails.

The law will raise the spectre of hope for more than 30,000 Nigerians-constituting about 70 per cent of total inmates.

The bill, and amendment to the Criminal Justice Act, is under the works at the Senate, and was given a second reading on Wednesday.

Lawmakers say it holds the promise for solving the nation’s problem with congested prisons once and for all.

Under its provisions, the Comptroller-General of Prison is to serve the Chief Justice of the Federation, and the Chiefs Justice of the relevant states, monthly updates on all inmates.

The Chief Judicial Officers, acting on the registers available to them, will order the release of prisoners who have awaited trial for periods equivalent to or longer than the term meant for their crimes had they been convicted.

Those adjudged to have been detained unlawfully too, are to be released.

“The disheartening bleak truth is that our prisons host almost 70 per cent of inmates who are awaiting trial,” said Babajide Omoworare, an Action Congress of Nigeria Senator, representing Osun State. “A worrisome fact conceded by Minister of Interior, Abba Moro, and globally echoed and lamented by Amnesty International.”

Nigeria’s judicial system is reputed amongst some of the worlds most notorious, with victims often denied access to justice and thousands left in the nation’s clogged prisons without trial.

The 1999 amended Constitution provides that an accused must be brought before a Court within a reasonable time or be released from custody two to three months from the date of arrest.

A longstanding violation of that provision has continued.

According to the Interior minister, Mr. Moro, about 30, 000 of over 46, 000 inmates of prisons across the country are awaiting trial.

“Those mostly affected are not the high echelon of the society. They are the middle class and poor Nigerians. It is not fair,” Senate president, David Mark, said as the amendment bill was debated on Wednesday.

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