In this report, VIVIAN OKEJEME looks at the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA), which came into effect in 2015 and the need for its domestication in the 36 states to aid the country’s justice delivery system
It is a widely accepted fact that the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015 (ACJA) is one of the most relevant laws in Nigeria in recent times. This is so because of its extensive applicability and revolutionary nature.
The ACJA, signed into law in 2015, which comes in handy for both lawyers and non-lawyers, has a 495-section law divided into 49 parts, providing for the administration of criminal justice and for related matters in the courts of the Federal Capital Territory and other Federal Courts in Nigeria.
The Act’s tentacles spread across every major aspect of criminal justice system. In fact, the Act regulates more than just criminal procedure; it covers, in most parts, the entire criminal justice process from arrest, investigation, trial, custodial matters and sentencing guidelines. It is about all things criminal, from the cradle to the grave.
ACJA as an air of relief
With the Act, Nigeria now has a new and unified law that can be used in all federal courts and with respect to offences contained in Federal Legislations.
The law makes the former Criminal Procedure Act (CPA) as applied in the South and the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC) in the North, and the Administration of Justice Commission Act outdated.
The ACJA, by merging the major provisions of the two principal criminal justice legislations in Nigeria, that is CPA and CPC, preserves the existing criminal procedures while introducing new provisions that will enhance the efficiency of the justice system and help fill the gaps observed in these laws over the course of several decades.
The law has been described as the much awaited revolution in the criminal justice arena. This is because the criminal justice system existing before the coming into force of this law, has lost its capacity to respond quickly to the needs of the society, check the rising waves of crime, speedily bring criminals to book and protect the victims of crime.
Purpose of the Act
Section 1 of the ACJA is clearly apt in explaining the purpose of the Act thus: The purpose of this Act is 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.
One essential feature of the ACJA is its paradigm shift from punishment as the main goal of the criminal justice to restorative justice which pays serious attention to the needs of the society, the victims, vulnerable persons and human dignity generally.
Moreover, the general outlook of the Act positions human dignity in the forefront, from the adoption of the word defendant instead of accused, to its provision for humane treatment during arrest, to its numerous provisions for speedy trial, to suspended sentencing and community service, parole as well as compensation to victims of crime and so-on.
Calls for adaptation by all states
Stakeholders, including the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Walter Onnoghen and Chie Judge (CJ) of the Federal Capital Territory High Court, Ishaq Bello, advocate the adaptation of the Act by all states.
The CJN, Justice Walter Onnoghen, believes it is imperative that the Act be domesticated at the state level.
“It is common knowledge that Nigeria, alongside other developing countries, is moving away from a punitive criminal justice system to a restorative one that recognises the various needs of society and is determined to protect the rights of her citizens, including the defendants, the victims and vulnerable persons.”
On his part, the Chief Judge of the FCT, Justice Ishaq Bello, urges judges and Directors of Public Prosecutions from various states to adopt the provisions and modify them to suit their local environment to ensure uniformity of the criminal justice system.
“It has an added advantage of making prosecution easy. It makes it easy for the prosecution and the courts either for the magistrates or the judges.”
NBA moves for domestication
Few weeks back, the Nigerian Bar Association, (NBA), moved to domesticate ACJA in about 28 states.
The President of the Association, Mr. Abubakar Mahmud, SAN, at an elaborate event in Abuja, said the NBA has concluded arrangements to adopt and domesticate the Act in 28 states of the federation where the act has not been adopted.
Mahmud, during the ACJA conference, said the association hopes to achieve the domestication through advocacy and provision of technical support to the state with a view to guiding them for domestication or adoption, adding that the association will engage in provision of continuing legal education to stakeholders.
According to him, this will be deployed in partnership with Nigerian Institute for Advanced Legal Studies (NIALS), which will be implemented in three stages.
As at now, 8 States have adopted and passed the Administration of Criminal Justice. A few others are in the process and at various stages of passing the legislation. In effect, 28 states have not.
“The NBA envisages that the project will be implemented in three phases over a period of thirty-six (36) months in twenty (28) states, which are yet to domesticate the ACJA legislation.
“The twenty-eight states will be divided into 3 groups which will be spread across the years 2017, 2018, 2019. The states that will be selected for each year and phase will reflect all the six (6) geo-political zones of Nigeria,” he explains.
Furthermore, Mahmud says in order to ensure efficient and effective achievement of the intended results, the NBA’s strategy is to create some administrative structures which will include, Project Management Team, State Committee and NBA Institute of Continuing Legal Education (ICLE).
NBA partners Mac Arthur foundation
With a view to positively driving the project to the expected result, the NBA largely leverages on Information and Communication Technology.
It is in this context that the association approached the MacArthur Foundation with a project proposal to support criminal justice reforms in Nigeria, and in particular to support the adoption and implementation of the ACJA.
“We propose to launch an Administration of Criminal Justice Website which shall serve as the information hub and the go-to site for information regarding criminal justice administration in Nigeria. We shall also design a portal for online delivery of continuing legal education training,” Mahmud says.
The NBA, says Mahmud, believes that “within the context of our federal system, it is possible to promote alignment of objectives of our laws and legal principles, synergy of our institutions and acceptance of efficient institutional processes based on national and indeed internationally accepted standards.”
Speaking with Blueprint Law Weekly, some legal practitioners are of the view that the ACJ Act has helped in no small measure to solve so many problems in the justice delivery system.
Ogbonna Lawrence Esq. commends the leadership of the judiciary for coming up with the ACJ Act, which according to him, will take care of some delays being experienced in the justice delivery.
According to him, “we must not deceive ourselves; the ACJ Act has turned the country’s judiciary around.”
Buttressing Ogbonna’s vews, another lawyer, Tajudeen Adeoye, says with the Act, it will no longer be business as usual for lawyers who file frivolous applications to stall cases in court.
The question now is; how far can the NBA go in making the states adopt the new law and stop labouring under the old system?