HURILAWS takes case of 46,351 awaiting trial persons to court

Abubakar Malami, Minister of Justice

A fundamental rights class action has been filed on behalf of 46,351 Awaiting Trial Persons in all prisons in Nigeria.
The suit, filed by the Human Rights Law Service (HURILAWS), is against the Attorney General of the Federation, the Administration of Justice Commission, the Administration of Justice Monitoring Committee and the Comptroller-General of Prisons.
The development was contained in a release issued by Olisa Agbakoba law firm which was made available to PortNews in Lagos.
The grounds of the application are summarized as follows: The respondents, particularly the Administration of Justice Commission and Administration of Justice Monitoring Committee are statutorily created to supervise administration of justice in Nigeria by ensuring that criminal matters are speedily dealt with, congestion of criminal cases in courts is drastically reduced, congestion in prisons is reduced to the barest minimum and Persons awaiting trial are, as far as possible, not detained in prison custody.
The respondents have failed to properly discharge this statutory function. Criminal trials are often stalled due to unavailability of Prosecution Witnesses; Investigating Police Officers (IPOs); missing Case Files; Unavailability of DPP Advice etc. “The result is that at March 6, 2017, the total inmates’ population stands at 63, 259. Out of this number, 46,351 are Awaiting Trial Persons and the remaining 21,903 are convicted”. In terms of percentage, the convicted is 32% while Awaiting Trial Persons are 68%.
The recently released National Human Rights Commission 2012 Prison Audit report indicate that a total of 18,657 persons had spent three months and above awaiting trial in prisons across the country, with the following zonal break down: 1,150 detainees had spent 3 Months and above awaiting trial in the various prisons across the North East with Bauchi holding 313, while in the South East they were 4296 out of which 1380 were in Owerri prison. Similarly, they were 2929 in the South West, with 694 found in Agodi prison; 6476 were in the South South of which 2501 were in Port Harcourt prison. 2000 were found in the North West, with MSP Gushau having 404 and in the North Central they were 1806. Some of these detainees have spent over 16 years awaiting trial.
Although awaiting trial persons are presumed innocent; they detained in old and dilapidated prisons with poor sanitary conditions. The prison condition is harsh and life threatening, diseases are pervasive, there is inadequate medical and transport facilities.
The suit seeks the following reliefs: a declaration that the condition of Awaiting Trial Persons in Nigerian Prisons violates their Fundamental Rights to dignity of human person, personal liberty and fair hearing guaranteed by Sections 34, 35 & 36 (2), (4) and (6) (c) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 as amended;
A declaration that the condition of Nigerian prisons is not proper for human habitation and therefore violates the Fundamental Rights of Awaiting Trial Persons to dignity of human person guaranteed by Section 34 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 as amended;
A declaration that the long detention of Awaiting Trial Persons in Nigerian prisons violates the Fundamental rights of Awaiting Trial Persons to personal liberty guaranteed by Section 35 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 as amended;
A declaration that the delayed trial of Awaiting Trial persons violates the Fundamental rights of Awaiting Trial Persons to fair hearing guaranteed by 36 (2), (4) and (6) (c) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 as amended;
A declaration that the 2nd and 3rd Respondents have failed to discharge their duties under Sections 470 of Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015, particularly ensuring that criminal matters are speedily dealt with, congestion of criminal cases in Courts is drastically reduced, congestion in prisons is reduced to the barest minimum and Persons Awaiting Trial are, as far as possible, not detained in prison custody and as a result the Fundamental Rights to dignity of human person, personal liberty and fair hearing of Persons Awaiting Trial are being violated;
An Order enforcing the Fundamental Rights to dignity of human person, personal liberty and fair hearing of Awaiting Trial Persons in Nigerian Prisons by directing the Respondents to discharge their functions as stipulated by Sections 470 of Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015 by ensuring that the criminal matters are speedily dealt with, congestion of criminal cases in Courts is drastically reduced, congestion in prisons is reduced to the barest minimum and persons awaiting trial are, as far as possible, not detained in prison custody
According to HURILAWS, “the essence of this suit is to get the Administration of Justice Commission and Administration of Justice Monitoring Committee to discharge their statutory function which is supervise administration of justice in Nigeria by ensuring that criminal matters are speedily dealt with, congestion of criminal cases in Court drastically reduced, congestion in prisons reduced to the barest minimum, and persons awaiting trial are, as far as possible, not detained in prison custody, etc.

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