Police Duty-Solicitor Scheme (PDSS)

Project description

This project seeks to address the problem of pre-trial detention in Nigeria. It equally responds to the gap in co-ordination and harmonization of criminal justice administration in Nigeria with a view to ensuring prompt decision on arraignment and prosecution of persons alleged to have committed a criminal offence in Nigeria. As a supplementary objective, it further seeks to contribute to on-going work for the reform of Legal Aid Service delivery in Nigeria under the auspices of Nigeria’s Ministry of Justice and office of the Federal Attorney-General.

An estimated 64% of Nigeria’s prison population awaits trial. Pre-trial detention duration of over 10 years is not uncommon with those suspected of having committed serious or capital offences. Statistics from the four pilot states in this programme compiled in 2006, reveal that over 50% of those alleged to have committed capital offences had been in pre-trial detention for over three years.

The criminal justice system in Nigeria operates at snail pace. Capacity and skill constraints, poor role allocation among the various institutions of the criminal justice system, and associated poor co-ordination combine to ensure serious delays in the arraignment and trial of suspects. A major contributory factor is the manner in which the police arrest and detain suspects. Suspects who may be innocent are arrested and detained before their cases are investigated or certified by the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) at State or Federal level as fit for prosecution. This runs contrary to the basic constitutional doctrine of presumption of innocence which presupposes that suspects can only be arrested if Police investigation links them to a crime.

As an extension of the above practice, the Police routinely deny criminal suspects access to legal services until the suspects have incriminated themselves during often unlawful interrogation. The Police also arraign suspects before courts which do not have trial jurisdiction. These courts are however, empowered – even in the absence of trial jurisdiction on their part – under the provisions of the Criminal Procedure Laws – Criminal Procedure Act (CPA) and Criminal Procedure Code (CPC) of the States to remand suspects in prison custody. The reliance by the courts on the provisions of the CPC and CPA in issuing remand orders give credence and judicial backing to the practice of ‘indefinite detentions’ generally known as holding charge and creates the situation in which suspects are made to languish interminably awaiting trial. In turn, this creates congestion in the prisons and diminishes the utility of the criminal justice system as a public safety and security institution.

The activities under this programme head respond to the causes of the pandemic of prolonged pre-trial detention in Nigeria and attempt to fashion effective responses to them based on administrative intervention models and better co-ordination between the institutions of criminal justice administration in Nigeria. The major problem areas are illustrated in the table below:

Problem spots & processes Response
Initial contact between a criminal suspect and the Police (a) Duty solicitors on 24hrs call at police stations
Lack of access to legal services by criminal suspects (a) Duty solicitors on 24hours call at police stations
(b) Periodic review of criminal case files and police detention records by a project implementation team

Long periods of pre-trial detention
(a) Duty solicitors on 24hours call at police stations
(b) Periodic review of criminal case files and police detention records by a project implementation team
(c) Revival of the state Administration of Justice Committees
(d) Practice Directions mandating period review of all remand orders by Magistrates

Large numbers of pre-trial detainees
(a) Regular review of all remand orders by magistrates
(b) Revival of state Administration of Justice committees

Lack of co-ordination between agencies charged with criminal justice administration
(a) Revival of Administration of Justice committees
(b) Regular review meetings of the project partners

Lack of judicial responsibility to monitor and review remand orders (a) Draft model practice direction to Magistrates in issuing remand orders

In 2005, the PTD project team developed a model Practice Direction on judicial monitoring of pre-trial custodial orders to be issued by the Chief Judges of the project pilot States. The Practice Direction requires magistrates to monitor and review remand orders issued by them every three months with a limit of three reviews. This Direction aims at reducing the current average detention period of 3.7 years to a maximum of one year. The Chief Judges of Imo, Ondo, and Sokoto States have adopted and issued this Practice Direction. REPLACE is currently engaged in advocacy with the Chief Judge of Kaduna on the adoption of the Practice Direction. This project will ensure roll out of the practice direction beyond the existing three States as well as effective monitoring of its implementation. Monitoring shall take place through reports by the Magistrates to periodic meetings of the State Administration of Justice Committees.

In 1991, the Federal Government enacted the Administration of Justice Commission Act establishing Administration of Justice Committees (AJCs) at federal and state levels. Section 4 of the Act provides for the establishment of AJCs in each State of the Federation. The Committee shall consist of the Chief Judge of the State as Chairman; the Attorney – General of the State; the Commissioner of Police of the State; the Chairman of the State branch of the Nigerian Bar Association; and the State Comptroller of Prisons. Section 6 of the Act empowers the Committee with the function of general supervision of all aspects of the administration of justice in each State and the effective performance of the functions of all organs charged with responsibility for the administration of justice in the State.

Despite the existence of the enabling law for 16 years, the AJCs are mostly not operational. It is proposed through this project to re-activate the AJCs as the mechanism for monitoring the use and abuse of pre-trial custodial measures in the project. We propose, working with the State Chief Judges, to facilitate convening of regular quarterly meetings of the AJCs in each of the States so that the Committees will begin to exercise their functions of oversight over the operations of criminal justice administration.

The Manual will serve as a reference and resource tool for Duty Solicitors, lawyers and non-governmental organizations with regard to the procedures and best practices in engaging authorities for the redress of violation of rights. REPLACE, in partnership with the Justice Initiative, will engage a Consultant who will work with the project team to develop a Manual based on the experience of the Duty-Solicitors.

In addition to the Manual, we propose to issue an Advocacy Handbook which will document the project experience and outcomes over its five year lifetime from 2004.

Collaboration with the Police has been fundamental in the process of assigning duty-solicitors to duty posts in police stations. The signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the Police, the Legal Aid Council and the Open Society Justice Initiative in June 2006 is the basis for the continued presence of duty-solicitors in police stations in the pilot States and has facilitated the release of a large number of criminal suspects from police detention. This project will sustain Police participation in and support for the scheme. For this purpose, we propose to inaugurate a Duty-Solicitors Advisory Committee at State levels.

It is anticipated that project activities will inform and guide public advocacy for reform of legal aid in Nigeria. In 2006, the Nigerian government began legislative processes for the adoption of the Legal aid amendment Act. This lapsed with the end of the legislative term on 2 June 2007. New efforts are underway to ensure the passage of the Legal Aid Council Amendment bill. The bill proposes and expands the framework of the Legal Aid Council to include the provision of 24hours legal services and regulation of paralegals and clinical legal services. Public advocacy will focus on ensuring adoption of this Bill into law by the National Assembly.