TUNDE OYESINA writes that less than six months after its inauguration by the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Samuel Nkanu Onnoghen, Special Courts for corruption cases, an arm of the Corruption and Financial Crimes Cases Trial Monitoring Committee (COTRIMCO), is living up to expectations
Lawyers were unanimous at the weekend that Special Courts designated in November 2017 to try corruption and financial crimes cases in the country were not only up to the task but had lived up to expectations in less than six months after its inauguration.
They, however, applauded the courts terminating no fewer than 324 cases at judgement.
The designated special courts delivered 324 judgements, struck out 12 cases and reserved 62 other cases for judgement.
This, they were able to achieve within six months of its inauguration, thereby decongesting the court of cases which had lasted between 5 and 16 years.
Although COTRIMCO had identified poor prosecution, absence of counsel for parties in court, reliance on irrelevant documentary evidence, multiplicity of charges, non-adherence to court rules\procedures, retirement\transfer of Judges, re-assignment of cases to start de-novo, amendment of charges after commencement of trial and cumbersome record transmission process to Court of Appeal amongst others, it said they were some of the factors militating against speedy disposal of corruption cases in various courts.
These were statistics of cases decided as contained in a report card authored by COTRIMCO which tour the six geo-political zones of the country to determine causes of snail speed corruption and financial crimes cases in the country’s courts.
Its chairman, Justice Suleiman Galadima, a retired Justice of the Supreme Court, had, in the last six months criss-crossed the country to monitor and ensure compliance with the directive of the Honourable Chief Justice to ensure speedy dispensation of the cases.
Prior to the formation of the Committee, the Chief Justice had directed the Heads of court at a special session of the Supreme Court to mark the commencement of the 2017/2018 Legal Year, to designate special courts solely for the purpose of hearing and speedy determination of corruption and financial crime cases.
Upon receipt of the lists, the Committee divided itself into three sub-committees to cater for the easy monitoring and evaluation of the said cases in the different zones of the country as follows:
• Zone A: Abuja and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT)
• Zone B: Northern Zone
• Zone C: Southern Zone
Of the total number of 324 judgements delivered, the Supreme Court, in Zone A, delivered 52 judgements and reserved seven cases for judgement from the list of 125 cases pending before it, leaving an outstanding number of 73 cases”.
It further added that the Court of Appeal, Abuja Division, within the period, also disposed of 74 appeals and reserved 11 for judgement from the list of 137 cases in its docket.
In addition, it was also pointed out that the Federal High Court delivered two judgements from the 91 pending cases before it, while the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory likewise delivered three judgements and reserve one case for judgement thereby leaving an outstanding number of 178 cases pending.
In Zone B, Northern Zone, 62 judgements were delivered by the six Court of Appeal Divisions, 19 Federal High Court Divisions and 19 High Courts of various Northern States from the total number of 425 cases pending in the Zone, while 12 cases were struck out.
From the 12 cases struck out, five are from the Court of Appeal and seven from High Courts of three States.
The designated Courts in Zone C, (Southern Zone), have delivered judgements in 131 out of the 952 corruption and financial crime cases on-going at the various Courts and reserved 43 cases for judgements.
The information however revealed that from the total number of judgements delivered in the zone, the Federal High Court delivered seven judgements out of a total of 304 cases pending before it; while the High Courts of 17 States delivered 124 cases from the 524 on-going in their various courts.
The Court of Appeal in the zone has reserved 31 out of 121 appeals pending in the court for judgement.
The Federal High Court, on its part, reserved three cases for judgement while the various State High Courts in the Zone have reserved nine cases for judgement.
The Committee will continue the exercise after the courts’ vacation.
Already, the committee has identified poor prosecution, absence of counsel for parties in court, reliance on irrelevant documentary evidence, multiplicity of charges, non-adherence to court rules\procedures, retirement\transfer of Judges, re-assignment of cases to start de-novo, amendment of charges after commencement of trial, and cumbersome record transmission process to Court of Appeal amongst others as some of the factors militating against speedy disposal of corruption cases.
These are contained in the interim report presented by Justice Galadima at the 86th Meeting of the National Judicial Council.
In the said reports, the Committee distilled the issues from its findings from discussions with Heads of Courts and observations made from the surprise visits of the Members to Courts handling corruption and financial crime cases in some parts of Country.
One of the problems uncovered by COTRIMCO are the followings;
Offenders are charged to court before proper investigations of the charges are done, and afterwards,expecting the court to detain such alleged offenders till conclusion of their investigation;
• Inadequate prosecuting personnel at the prosecution Agencies;
• That some prosecutors lack the requisite experience to prosecute corruption cases, which invariably leads to poor handling of such cases; lack of commitment on the part of some prosecutors and collusion between them and defence counsel to pervert justice either by stalling the trials of cases or achieving pre-determined results;
• That there is no threshold to the number of witnesses the prosecution calls;
• Inadequate funding of prosecution Agencies to carry out thorough investigation of the corruption cases with attendant low quality prosecution cases; and frequent requests for adjournment by the prosecutors.
Duplication of charges
The committee submitted that the prosecution in most cases duplicate charges which could be up to 170 against a defendant but at the end are unable to substantiate them, leading to the discharge of such defendant.
Multiplicity of cases
The Committee also observed the issue of multiplicity of cases involving the same defendants, and on similar subject matters going on in different courts at the same time. This particular factor makes it impossible for some trials to proceed. In spite of the fact that the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) 2015, provides for day-to-day trials of Criminal Cases, a defendant who is undergoing trial in other courts is always unavailable for trial.
Absence of parties in court
This is a major factor delaying criminal justice administration as cases are mostly adjourned when parties are absent in court.
Extra judicial statement
Where the defence challenges the voluntariness of a confessional statement, the Judge has to order a trial-within-trial to determine the voluntariness of the confession, thereby causing delay.
The committee submitted that both the defence and prosecution are often culpable by relying on irrelevant evidence they would not necessarily use thereby causing unnecessary delay.
On the part of the court, the committee identified the following as contributing to the delay in quick dispensation of corruption cases: retirement\transfer of Judges handling such cases. When this happens, such cases which may have gone far are re-assigned to another Judge to start de-novo; granting of remand order by a court without following up to ensure suspects are brought to court; inadequate provision for proper record keeping and shelving of court files and other relevant documents in some courts; cumbersome process of transmission of records from trial Courts which impedes the early disposal of appeals; and difficulties associated with ascertaining addresses for service of process by Bailiffs
Prison on its part contributes to the delay by failing to remind court of subsisting order to reproduce suspects in court and most times lack means to convey awaiting trials to the law court.
However, for the speedy trial of corruption cases, the Committee recommends the importance of proper training for prosecution in the area of investigation, especially in the area of Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) 201. It also recommends the need for prosecuting Agencies to have competent prosecution departments manned by qualified personnel.
In addition, the committee recommends synergy between the various prosecution Agencies to enhance proper prosecution of criminal cases; use of professionals, such as accountants, auditors, etc, to investigate high profile and complicated cases; need for training and re-training of staff of court handling criminal cases; and the need to provide Judicial Officers with a Legal\Research Assistant to make their work easier.
Also, the committee recommends proper funding for the Judiciary and prosecuting agencies; deployment of more Judges to handle designated corruption cases; complete overhaul of both physical and technical infrastructures in designated Courts as some of them are small and not well ventilated; and need to come up with Practise Directions for corruption cases trial to cure anomalies in the trial of the cases.
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