The impact of access to justice in the administration of criminal justice Act, 2015 cannot be over emphasized. Administration of criminal justice refers to the performance of entire justice related actions such as arrest, bail, preventive justice, warrants, criminal trials, plea bargain, sentencing, restorative justice, e.t.c. The effective application of these acts results in a justice system that is effective in maintaining law and order.
As such, the fundamental objective of judicial punishment is to protect the victims of society through certain punishment. The administration of the law, which secures this, is far more effectual to deter from crime than severity in punishment.
Overview of Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015
The Administration of Criminal Justice Act was signed into law in May 2015, it has 495-sections divided into 49 parts, providing for the administration of criminal justice and for related matters in the courts of the Federal Capital Territory, Federal High Courts in Nigeria, National Industrial Courts. The Act repeals the Criminal Procedure Act applicable in the South and the Criminal Procedure Code applicable in Northern states.
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.
State of Criminal Justice in Nigeria prior to enactment of ACJA
Before now, the administration of criminal justice was in a chaotic state and the problem of incessant delay topped the list of the overall malfeasance in the system. There was undue delay in the prosecution of even the most important cases. There were long and sometime inexcusable periods of adjournments, unpreparedness in the calling of witnesses, transfer of judges without effective plans for the cases they are handling and indeed poor working attitude of various stakeholders.
It is in the light of the above background that the administration of criminal justice act 2015 is madeenacted with a grand purpose in its section 1 (1). 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.
Its section 2 enjoins the courts, law enforcement agencies and other authorities or persons involved in criminal justice administration to ensure compliance with the provisions of the act and the realization of its purposes. And, generally, makes the act applicable to criminal trials for offe3nces established by an act of the national assembly and other offences punishable in the federal capital territory, Abuja.
This above provision has received judicial imprimatur in the recent case of FRN v Lawan. It is pertinent to state that State High courts are not to depend on the provisions of this act when trying federal offences but must dwell on the criminal procedure code applicable in the state of trial.
Challenge facing the administration of criminal justice in Nigeria
A key challenge facing the administration of criminal justice in Nigeria is lack of forensic skills by the police and other law enforcement agencies. At times, suspects make confessional statements unwillingly.
However, when these cases go to trial, many suspects disown these statements or allege that the statement was made under duress or other vitiating factors. This often leads to long trials and delays in criminal justice administration and high number of awaiting trial persons on remand in prison across the country.
However, with the introduction of Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015, the act in conformity with the provisions of the evidence act 2011 now provides that a confessional statement may be by means of an electronic recording in a retrievable video compact disc or such other audio-visual means.
Features of Administration of Criminal Justice Act
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. The general tone of the Act puts human dignity in the fore, 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, community service, compensation to victims of crime, etc.
Integrity in the administration of justice is very important for the entire criminal justice system. Integrity in this sense means that laws are equitable and fair; the procedure for applying them must follow the legal rules and protect civil and political rights. Prosecutors, judges must not only follow the prescribed procedure but must maintain the highest level of professional and ethical behaviour.
Integrity in the administration of justice ensures that police and other enforcement authorities will not act for political or personal ends and the accused have the opportunity to present a defence. To safeguard integrity in prosecution and access to justice, the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) 2015 introduced a lot of innovative provisions aimed at ensuring access to justice in criminal justice administration.
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