By Eric Ikhilae, Abuja
The Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami has advocated the need for courts in the country to promote non-custodial sentencing option as a prison decongestion strategy.
Malami noted that the sentencing option is provided for in the nation’s laws, particularly Section 470(2)(c) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, (ACJA) 2015 and Section 2(1)(b) of the Nigerian Correctional Service Act, 2019.
The AGF spoke in Abuja on Monday during a virtual interactive session of the Presidential Committee on Correctional Service Reform and Decongestion with stakeholders to review the Federal Capital Territory Courts Sentencing Guidelines and Practice Direction 2020.
He said the proposed consolidated sentencing guidelines were meant to implement one of the major recommendations of a recently held national workshop on the Effective Implementation of the Nigerian Correctional Service Act, 2019.
Malami identified some objectives of the proposed guidelines to include setting out the appropriate standards and guideline for the sentencing process in offences against the state, person, public order, morality, homicide, property and corruption related offences, for the purpose of ensuring reasonable uniformity and fairness in sentencing in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
He also said the new guideline is to set out the requirements and procedure for imposing custodial and non-custodial sentences for the purpose of preventing abuse and ensuring reasonable uniformity and fairness in the imposition of sentences.
Malami said, ”This interactive session has therefore brought together relevant stakeholders especially the FCT Judiciary to review, ratify, validate and adopt the consolidated draft document which will hopefully be signed in no distant time by my Lord, the Chief Judge of the FCT High Court.
”It is expected that this pilot document will be extended to other States of the Federation, especially those States that have enacted the Administration of Criminal Justice Law.
“The administration of our criminal justice system is an embodiment of diverse institutions respectively engaged in the detection, prosecution and adjudication over offenders culminating to conviction and sentencing.”
The Chairman of the Presidential Committee, Justice Ishaq Bello said the introduction of non-custodial sentences such as probation, community service, restitution, compensation and suspended sentence by the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015 was one of the main innovations of the new Act which was aimed at addressing the problem of congestion of correctional facilities in Nigeria.
Justice Bello, who is also the Chief Judge of the High Court of the FCT, noted that the existing Federal Capital Territory Courts (Sentencing Guidelines) Practice Direction, 2016 did not make adequate provision for non – custodial measures which necessitated a review to address the existing gaps, relating to non-custodial sentencing and to ensure fairness, consistency and uniformity in imposition of both custodial and non-custodial sentences.
He said subsequent review of the FCT Courts Sentencing Guidelines Practice Direction, 2016, following the enactment of the Nigerian Correctional Service Act, 2019 revealed that there is inadequate provisions on the circumstances when non-custodial sentence can or cannot be imposed.
Justice Bello added that there is also ambiguity as to whether the discretion on non-custodial sentence should be confined to the provisions of the ACJA and the Sentencing guidelines;
The Solicitor General of the Federation (SGF) and Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Justice, Dayo Apata (SAN) appreciated the justice sector stakeholders and experts for their participation and contributions , especially the Chief Judge of Lagos State, Justice Kazeem O. Alogba, who shared the Lagos state experience, challenges and lessons in the Administration of Justice.
Apata expressed gratitude to the AGF and the United Nations, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), for their consistent support towards the success of the Justice Sector Reform programs of the Federal Ministry of Justice.
The Secretary of the committee, Mrs. Leticia Ayoola-Daniels expressed satisfaction with the success of the event.
She was hopeful that the committee will continue to enjoy the support of relevant justice sector stakeholders in the delivery of its mandate to fast track the decongestion of custodial centres via the deployment of relevant measures