The Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad has urged Heads of Court to take urgent measures towards the speedy trial of cases and decongestion of custodial centres in the country in view of COVID-19 Pandemic.
The CJN and the chairman of the National Judicial Council (NJC) gave the directive in a memo, titled, “Urgent need for speedy trial of cases and decongestion of Custodian Centers, with Ref. No. NJC/CIR/HOC/II/662 , dated 15th May, 2020 and addressed to all Chief Judges, States Judiciaries and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
Justice Muhammad said, the United Nations had recently called on countries of the world to consciously reduce the population of prison inmates since physical distancing and self-isolation in such conditions are practically impossible.
He said, from available records, the inmates population at various custodial centers across the country presently stands at about 74,127 out of which 52,226 are Awaiting Trial Persons (ATPs), adding that, most of the custodial centers are presently housing inmates beyond their capacities and the overcrowded facilities pose a potent threat to the health of the inmates and the public in general in view of the present circumstances, hence the need for urgent steps to bring the situation under control.
“Considering the above, it has become imperative for Your Lordships to embark on the immediate visit to all custodial/correctional centres within your respective States to identify and release deserving inmates, where that has not been done already.”
During the requested visit, the CJN enjoined Chief Judges to consider the conditional or unconditional release of Awaiting Trial Persons who have spent six years or more in custody.
“ATPs who have no confirmed criminal cases against them, aged inmates and terminally ill may be discharged. It is expected that particular attention should be on the aged, those with health issues, low-risk offenders, those with no sufficient legal basis to remain in custody, inmates convicted for minor offences with or without option of fines and inmates who have less than three years term left to serve, having served a substantial term of their service for offences that attract five years and above.
“Payment of fines may be made in favour of inmates convicted of lesser offences with the option of fine, who are in custody because of their inability to pay such fines.
“A report on the proposed visits is required to be forwarded to me for compilation and onward transmission to Presidential Committee on Correctional Service Reform and Decongestion Secretariat, Federal Ministry of Justice, Abuja”, the CJN stated in the memo.
Justice Muhammad also stressed the need for the Chief Judges to direct lower courts to comply with requirements of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act/law in issuing remand warrants in criminal cases, especially in cases which are not within their jurisdiction.
This, according to him, will regulate the volume of entry of Awaiting Trial Inmates into custodial centres.