Part of the problems that resulted in the introduction of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) was the protracted nature of many cases in court.
Following the core objective of the ACJA, therefore, section 306 of the Act was introduced to curtail the rate at which interlocutory applications led to the suspension of a substantive matters still pending in court.
Interlocutory application refers to a request for an order of court regarding a matter of immediate importance during the prosecution of another matter, yet to be decided upon by the court.
The section provides that, “an application for stay of proceedings in respect of a criminal matter before the court shall not be entertained.”
Another section that aided the prevention of unnecessary delay of trials in federal courts is section 396 of the ACJA. According to section 396 (2) of the Act, objections raised regarding the validity of a charge by a defendant shall be considered along with the substantive matter and a ruling delivered on such objection(s) at the time when judgement is delivered in the substantive suit.
These two sections were largely considered a welcome development in the struggle to eliminate undue delay of cases as lawyers could no longer hide behind the questionability of a charge or a pending case at a higher court to suspend their trials.
Cases like that of Nnamdi Kanu, leader of Indigenous People of Biafra and former spokesperson of the Peoples Democratic Party, Olisa Metuh were among many others prevented from becoming unnecessarily delayed, using the Act.
However, when the Supreme Court in November, 2015 ordered the suspension of the Senate President, Bukola Saraki’s trial on alleged false asset charge, the decision of the Supreme Court resulted in raging debates about the admissibility of these provisions, as captured in the opinion of a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Femi Falana.
Section 396 (3) of the ACJA also provides for the day-to-day trial of defendants upon their arraignment. Specifically, the section provides that, “Upon arraignment, the trial of the defendant shall proceed from day-to-day until the conclusion of the trial.”
The section further adds that, “Where day-to-day hearing of the matter is not possible after arraignment, parties to the matter shall only be entitled to not more than five adjournments from arraignment to final judgement and the interval between each adjournments shall not exceed 14 days”.
While a lot of high courts have complied with the first part of this section, which entails day-to-day trial of suspects, virtually all the courts have adjourned cases for an interval period of more than 14 days, in negation of the requirements of this section.
Also, according to the provision of section 396 (7) of the ACJA, the promotion of a judge shall not be considered a reason for restarting a case.
“A judge of the Federal High Court who has been elevated to the Court of Appeal shall have dispensation to continue to sit as a High Court Judge, only for the purpose of concluding any part-head criminal matter, pending before him at the time of his elevation and shall conclude within a reasonable time.*
This section however provides that the duty of the elevated judge at the trial court shall only be considered on the grounds that it does not hinder his or her new responsibilities at the Court of Appeal.
Before the introduction of ACJA, high courts had no jurisdictions to award costs for damages incurred by the victims of crimes. All the victims could get was the conviction of the culprit.
With the introduction of ACJA however, these courts became empowered to not only convict victims, but also to award sums as a recourse for damages incurred from the action of culprits during the same proceedings.
According to section 314 (1), the court may also order the defendant to pay a sum of money to defray expenses incurred in the prosecution, “as compensation to any person injured by the offence”.
Such a sum could also be offered, “as compensation to an innocent purchaser of any property in respect of which the offence has been committed who has been compelled to give it up”.
The order for the payment of damages could also be made, “to defray expenses incurred in medical treatment of a victim injured by the convict in connection with the offence”.
Also, where a property is recovered from the defendant in the course of the proceedings, that property can either be returned to anyone who ‘appears’ as its owner or given as compensation to the defendant in the trial.
Read the first part of this analysis here.
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