A human rights activist and lawyer, Femi Falana, on Tuesday condemned the practice of parading suspects in alleged criminal cases before the media.
Mr Falana spoke in Lagos at a civil society roundtable programme on Administration of Criminal Justice Act and Abolition of Stay of Proceedings in Criminal Trials. The programme, put together by the Human and Environmental Development Agenda, HEDA Resource Centre, held in Ikeja, Lagos.
Speaking as the guest speaker at the occasion, Mr Falana said it was illegal to subject suspects to media trial, adding that it could subvert the justice system.
The lawyer explained that in most cases, only the poor and the less privileged are subjected to media parade, with the rich treated with dignity and respect.
“You don’t parade the big men; you don’t parade politically exposed persons. You only parade the poor,” he said.
The Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN, hailed the judiciary for the abolition of ‘stay of proceedings’ in criminal trials, describing it as a crooked and unethical means deployed by some lawyers in order to delay justice.
“It is a class matter,” he said, “It does not apply to the poor in magistrate and customary courts.”
In his intervention, Rotimi Jacobs, a counsel to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, said the abuse of stay on proceedings has delayed justice and led to the abrupt end of many criminal trials in Nigeria. Making reference to the case of the late General Sani Abacha’s family which was withdrawn after 14 years, he said many notable lawyers frustrate the course of justice with technicalities.
He hailed the Supreme Court decision on the stay of proceedings, adding that it will enhance the administration of justice and remove unnecessary hiccups. He also urged lawyers to be ethical and moral in their practice, saying there is need for them to “change (their) attitude.”
Another senior lawyer, Monday Ubani, called for a practice direction to all courts to reject stay on proceedings requests.
Mr Ubani, who explained how the request truncated the trial of former governor Orji Kalu of Abia State, noted that one good thing former president Goodluck Jonathan did was to sign the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, ACJA.
Also, Jiti Ogunye, human rights lawyer and activist, said people often accuse the EFCC of haphazard investigations and shoddy prosecution. He, however, explained that people often fail to realise that once adjudication is corrupted, justice will not be served.
He described the ACJA as the ‘game changer’ which has facilitated speedy prosecution of criminal cases in the courts.
“The duty we have is to ensure that the Administration of Criminal Justice Act is preserved,” he said, adding that without proper enforcement and diligent adjudication, the anti-corruption war cannot be effectively fought.
The programme was attended by civil society campaigners, human rights lawyers and journalists.
A short communique read at the end of the roundtable noted that efforts should be made by stakeholders to simplify the ACJA for the common man on the street; organise an action rally; advocate for the inclusion of the Act in school curriculum; organise a roundtable with judges and lawyers and ensure that progressive minded individuals in the Nigerian Bar Association are fully involved in the campaign.