In an effort to decongest correctional centres, the Lagos State Ministry of Justice on Thursday held a plea bargain session for some inmates at the Kirikiri Maximum Correctional Centre.
The plea bargain session was the first of its kind to be held at a correctional centre in Lagos State.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the previous practice was for counsel to incarcerated inmates to write to the Attorney-General of the state to consider plea bargain agreements for their clients.
A total of 27 inmates – 16 males and 11 females – were beneficiaries of Thursday’s plea bargain session.
The Lagos State Attorney-General, Moyosore Onigbanjo (SAN), the state Solicitor-General, Titilayo Shitta-Bey, and some of the ministry of justice staff kick-started the initiative.
The state Directorate of Public Prosecution (DPP), Office of the Public Defender (OPD), Legal Aid Council, and The Citizens Mediation Center (CMC), were represented at the session.
Others in the justice sector such as the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), African Women Lawyers Association (AWLA) and International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA) partnered in the project.
Addressing participants, Mr Onigbanjo said one of the problems facing correctional facilities in the state was overcrowding.
He said Lagos State Government had designed many programmes to decongest prisons in the state.
According to him, plea bargain agreement is one of the programmes.
He said the ministry of justice was rendering an invaluable service by bringing the plea bargain initiative to the doorstep of the prisons for the first time.
“We have today, judges who are waiting to take the matters virtually/online and any plea bargain we make today will be taken as the judgment of the court.
“For inmates that do not have lawyers here, there are lawyers from FIDA, AWLA, NBA, OPD and the Legal Aid Council to represent you,” he said.
The A-G gave the assurance that the ministry of justice and other stakeholders would not coerce innocent inmates to admit to crimes.
“If indeed you have committed an offence, Lagos State Government is telling you to plead guilty to a lesser charge so you can serve your sentence and go on to live a reasonable law-abiding life.
“We urge you to take advantage of this exercise and to spread the good news to your brothers and sisters who are not here with us.
“This is an opportunity for a second chance, grab it with both hands,” Mr Onigbanjo said.
In her speech, Ms Shitta-Bey said the exercise was the demystifying of the myth that the option of plea bargain is for wealthy and influential offenders.
She said the ministry of justice had made the process free and accessible to eligible inmates.
The solicitor-general, however, noted that plea bargain option was for individuals who committed non-capital offences.
“I urge you to consider and make use of the opportunity presented to you today.
“Plea bargain is not for someone who is not guilty or who did not commit the offence they are accused of.
“You do not need to pressure yourself to partake in it if you believe you are innocent,” she said.
NAN reports that some judges from the state judiciary including Justices Sedotan Ogunsanya, Oluwatoyin Ipaye, and Yetunde Adesanya held virtual sessions and sentenced some inmates who participated in the plea bargain agreement.
Sedotan Ogunsanya virtually sentenced one Opeyemi Adejuyigbe to seven years’ imprisonment following his guilty plea to illegal possession of firearms.
He had been awaiting trial since 2015.
Mr Adejuyigbe’s sentence would run from 2015 when he was incarcerated.
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