Nigerian Lawyers have given a given a grand support to the Federal Government’s reform of the criminal justice system barring the police from prosecuting criminal cases in the country.
The Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr Abubakar Malami, on Aug. 25 stripped the police of power to prosecute criminal cases.
The action is in line with the provisions of Section 106 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015, he said.
Malami said the section had transferred to the Federal Ministry of Justice the responsibility of prosecuting all criminal matters as part of the reforms of the justice system.
The minister had in a statement said his ministry had so far taken over about 8,000 case files from the police for prosecution.
Mr Joseph Alabi expressed the hope that under the reform, justice would be dispensed fairly when lawyers start prosecuting criminal cases.
“Justice will be dispensed fairly when lawyers start to prosecute criminal cases. Police prosecutors sometimes frustrate cases by being absent in court, usually compelling judges to dismiss criminal cases on grounds of lack of diligent prosecution.
“Lawyers have legal knowledge, they possess a law degree and have been admitted to the bar but the police prosecutors do not,’’ he told the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN).
“There will be a big change in the prosecution of cases through lawyers’ effectiveness, responsiveness and transparency.”
To Mr Isaiah Oje, prosecution of criminal matters by lawyers was a welcome idea that would chart a new course in the nation’s criminal justice system.
He said:“With our integrity, strength and fairness in prosecuting criminal cases justice will prevail. We are all going to deliver criminal justice of the highest quality so that we can inspire confidence and trust in our communities.
“We will fairly, appropriately and firmly deal with criminal conducts in the most effective and efficient way and in a way that is transparent.’’
“Lawyers will ensure that criminal matters are promptly dealt with, reduce congestion of prisons, and end detention of persons awaiting trials in prisons among others.”
He said lawyers would respect and protect the rights of all those affected including victims, witnesses, suspects and defendants, Oje added.
An Ikorodu-based lawyer, Mr Ezekiel Ogbaide, also told NAN that police prosecutors had perverted the course of justice because of their inexperience and poor knowledge of the law.
Ogbaide said the use of lawyers to prosecute criminal cases particularly at the magistrate courts would speed up trial of cases.
“Knowledge is the basis upon which advanced societies built their justice system.
“We know for sure that a lawyer will always outwit a policeman who does not have a proper understanding of the workings of the law in court whether on a civil or criminal matter.
“Many innocent persons have suffered injustice in courts because of the poor handling of cases by police prosecutors.
“The only way out is to employ only lawyers to be charged with prosecution at all levels,” he said.
Ogbaide suggested that lawyers should also be consulted even at the level of investigation before a charge is brought against a suspect.
However, a lawyer at the Lagos State Ministry of Justice, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said banning police prosecutors would be ineffectual.
“This system cannot work because in the Ministry of Justice, we have a few lawyers compared to the number of courts in Lagos alone. Former Gov. Babatunde Fashola tried to implement it during his tenure, but it was unsuccessful because of insufficient funds.”
He doubted if the government has the capacity to pay the salaries of lawyers that will be recruited as legal counsel.
“The best the government can do is to assign some lawyers to assist the existing police prosecutors and not to scrap it entirely.
“The government should come up with a well laid out plan for the prosecution of criminal cases,” he said.