Why We Launch Virtual Court in Prison- Malami
Being an address by the Minister at the launch of virtual court sitting at Kuje Prison,Abuja on December 6, 2021
Permit me to thank the Honourable Minister of Interior, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, the Comptroller – General of the Nigerian Correctional Service, the Nigerian Correctional Service, the Government of Japan and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Spotlight Initiative for their cooperation and funding support which has made today’s event a reality.
One of the strategic interventions by the Federal Ministry of Justice towards engendering lasting reforms in the Criminal Justice Sector in Nigeria was the development of the Consolidated Sentencing Guidelines (Custodial and Non-Custodial) Practice Directions, 2020. The Ministry in collaboration with the Presidential Committee on Correctional Reforms and Decongestion thereafter hosted a Virtual Technical Session involving crucial stakeholders to review and validate the draft document.
At the end of the Session, it was recommended that “the Federal Ministry of Justice should expedite its engagement with the Nigerian Correctional Centres to make it possible for evidence of suspects in custody to be taken without their physical presence in court to avoid disruptions”
This is a re-enactment and consolidation of spirit of Administration of Criminal Justice Act targetted at speedy determination of cases by way of eliminating delays and displacement of denial of justice which will further support our policy of decongestion of correctional centres across the country.
It may be recalled that in my press release issued on the 20th of April 2020, on Post Covid-19 justice system plans, I had expressed the resolve of the Federal Ministry of Justice to respond appropriately to the challenges posed by the pandemic to the administration of justice in the country in collaboration with other critical stakeholders in the Justice Sector.
I also emphasized that there was the need for a paradigm shift in the administration of justice through the deployment of appropriate technologies to drive the administration of justice.
Accordingly, on the 27th of April 2020, the Committee on post Covid-19 Justice System in Nigeria was constituted and inaugurated. The primary aim of the committee is to assess and identify the challenges and impact of the Pandemic on the entire Justice System and make appropriate and actionable recommendations on the immediate, medium and long term measures for addressing the challenges of the pandemic.
One of the mandates of the committee is to work with the Nigerian Correctional Service to establish virtual court rooms/studios in correctional centres to enable suspects in custody participate in the remote hearing of cases or bail applications.
Consequently in this regard, the Ministry partnered with the UNDP and Japan Government towards deploying Virtual Court Proceedings in Correctional Centres nationwide with a Pilot Project in Kuje Correctional Centre.
As you may recall, the Covid-19 pandemic pushed various sectors of the economy of most countries of the world into a complete shutdown-from private sector organizations to public organizations, and even the Criminal Justice sector.
Court proceedings became delayed and there was an ensuing collapse of the prosecution of several high-profile cases. In the circumstance, the correctional centres were becoming overcrowded and gradually sliding into a very critical state. The Pandemic created a problem that basically could not be solved without the adoption of technology.
This project was, therefore, initiated to ensure the hearing and determination of urgent and time-bound cases, using the digital platform. This system would equally ensure speedy dispensation of trials in line with section 36(4) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended), which provides that every person shall be entitled to fair hearing within a reasonable time. It would also eliminate the issue of difficulties in conveying the inmates to court and would further ensure the safety and security of the inmates and law enforcement officers.
We are no longer constrained by mobility, space and time in the justice delivery on account of accommodation of the virtual court sitting facilities and deployment of incidental technology.
Notably, our justice system is founded on the constitutional principle of fundamental rights to fair hearing that requires the court to hear and determine cases in public and the physical presence of the suspects or parties in court.
I assure you that the Virtual Court Proceedings are in compliance with the provisions of section 36(3) of the Constitution, which provides for public court sitting or hearing. This Virtual Court Proceedings meet up with the expectation of the Constitution and are not private hearings but open to the respective counsel involved, the litigants (inmates) and the general public at large.
In addition, it is important to note that this virtual court hearing will not in any way contravene the provision of section 36(6) of the 1999 Constitution which provides for the arraignment, taking of evidence, tendering of documents, cross-examination and general conduct of criminal proceedings. In as much as these are done in accordance with the said provision, the virtual hearing would be valid.
This initiative will in no small measure help boost the economy by ensuring that funds meant for the movement of the inmates would be channeled to other essential areas of needs in the Correctional Centres, and assist the country to meet up with global best practice in terms of the Administration of the Criminal Justice.
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, I have no doubt whatsoever, that the effective deployment of these facilities for the virtual court sitting proceedings for the inmates will significantly contribute to the overall efficiency of the criminal justice system in Nigeria.
As we launch these facilities today, I am hopeful that this initiative would bring about effective virtual court sittings in correctional centres nationwide which would feed into the adoption of the National Judicial Council Guidelines on Virtual/Remote Court Sittings and Quick Access to Justice for incarcerated citizens in Correctional centres across the Federation.
At this juncture, I must appreciate the commitment and dedication of the Administration of Criminal Justice Reform (ACJR) Department of the Federal Ministry of Justice, the representatives of the UNDP and indeed, all stakeholders who worked round the clock to ensure the success of this project.
On behalf of the President, President Muhammadu Buhari, Federal Republic of Nigeria, I thank and express my deep appreciation to the Government of Japan and UNDP Spotlight Initiative for their funding support. We look forward to a continued collaboration and it is on this note that I wish to declare this facilities open.
ABUBAKAR MALAMI, SAN
HONOURABLE ATTORNEY-GENERAL OF THE FEDERATION AND
MINISTER OF JUSTICE
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