By Okunade Adekunle
The Lagos State House of Assembly is considering a bill that will allow Chief Magistrate within a police division in the state to conduct an inspection of the station or other places of detention at least every month.
The bill stated that where bail had been refused, the magistrate could grant bail to any suspect if the offence for which the suspect was held within the jurisdiction of the magistrate.
These were revealed on Thursday during a Day- Public Hearing on a Bill for a Law to amend the administration of Criminal Justice Law, Cap A3, Laws of Lagos State, 2015, organised by the House Committee On Judiciary, Human Rights, Public Petitions and LASIEC at the Assembly Complex, Alausa-Ikeja.
Giving an overview of the bill, the Majority Leader of the House, Hon. Sanai Agunbiade said that some new innovations were introduced into the bill, saying that the amendment was to strengthen the administration of criminal justice law of the state.
In the Bill, Section 9 states that a person who is arrested and in the custody of the police shall be given reasonable facilities for obtaining legal advice, bail or making arrangements for his defence or release.
It states further that the police shall refrain from parading any suspect before the media.
On the right of suspects, the bill in section 7 explained that a suspect should not be arrested merely on a civil wrong or breach of contract.
Also, section 76 of the Bill, stated that prosecutor may receive and consider a plea bargain from a defendant charged with an offence either directly or on behalf of the defendant, stressing that he may offer a plea bargain to a defendant charged with an offence.
“The prosecutor may only enter into an agreement after consultation with the police responsible for the investigation of the case and the victim or his representative and with due regard to the nature of and circumstances relating to the offence, the defendant and public interest.”
The Bill in section 181 (b) reads that a witness who refuses to attend shall be liable on summary conviction to a penalty not exceeding N20,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 2months.
Section 200 of the Bill reads: “Subject to the provisions of section 202 and 217 of the extant law and any other written law specifically relating to the room or place in which any trial is to take place under the extant law shall be an Open Court to which the public generally may have access to, as far as it can conveniently contain them.”
On non-appearance of a prosecutor, the Bill stated that the court should strike out the case and discharge the defendant unless the court has received a reasonable excuse from the prosecution for the non-appearance of the witness.
On the nature of Community Service Order, the bill in Section 347 creates a Community Service Officer who shall be appointed in each Magistrate District by the Attorney-General after consultation with the Commissioner responsible for social development.
“A Community Service Order shall be in the nature of environmental sanitation, assisting in the care of children and elderly in government-approved homes or any other type of service which in the opinion of the Court would have a beneficial and salutary effect on the character of the offenders.”
The Bill also creates for the establishment of a Crime Data Register which would be a database of suspects and convicts whether minor or major.
Section 370 reads: “There is established a Crime Data Register known as the Lagos Criminal Information System which shall be a database of suspects and convicts whether minor or major.
“The Lagos Criminal Information System shall capture, store and provide access to information on physical, personal, biometrics, fingerprint details and photographs of suspects obtained by the Police, Prisons, Judiciary, Ministry of Justice and other relevant agencies.”
The bill also provides for the establishment of the Criminal Justice Sector Reform Committee with the responsibility of ensuring effective and efficient application of the law by the relevant agencies.
The committee shall ensure that criminal matters are speedily dealt with, decongestion of criminal cases in court, persons awaiting trial are as far as possible not detained in prison custody unduly.
In her contributions, a Deputy Chief Registrar, Mrs Ariyike Ipaye, commended the House for the new innovations introduced into the bill, saying that it would address the challenges facing the administration of criminal justice in the state.
Ipaye suggested that the owner of the property should approach the Court for the release of the property rather than the police officer to make a report to the court stating the particulars and the reasons for the refusal.
“It is better that the owner of the property should approach the Court rather than the police officer making a report to the court,” said Ipaye.
Also, a representative of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA, Lagos Branch), Ms Tomilola Opaleye, opined that the care of children and elderly in government-approved homes should not be under a Community Service Order, suggesting that the House should come up with better initiatives.
“The care of children and the elderly in government-approved homes should not be placed under the assistance of a Community Service Order. It should be expunged or better initiatives should be introduced,” said Opaleye.
The President of the Lagos State University Students’ Union (LASUSU), Mr Baseet Ashade, suggested that there should be a time frame for a police officer to make a report to the court, stating the particulars and the reasons for the refusal to release the property of the owner.