Lagos State Government has advised stakeholders in the legal sector to embrace the culture of exploring the provisions of ‘Plea and Sentence Bargain’ when presiding over litigations, saying that the state government will continue to adopt reasonable and creative measures in its prison decongestion drive.
The Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Mr. Adeniji Kazeem gave the advice at the presentation of the Plea Bargain Manual on Thursday at Alausa, Ikeja.
He said that the rationale behind the presentation of the Manual was hinged on the belief that the availability of a forum for quick and efficient dispensation of justice would buoy the confidence of citizens in the administration of criminal justice in Lagos.
Kazeem explained that it was expedient for stakeholders in the judicial sector to embrace creative provisions in the already existing laws to decongest prisons considering the length of time Awaiting Trial Inmates/detainees remain in prison custody because of length of court proceedings.
“My hope is that the formal presentation of this manual would trigger a change of attitude from our “don’t plead guilty” approach even in the face of overwhelming evidence against the Defendant. This would go a long way in decongesting not only the Courts but also decongesting the Prisons who are already groaning under the burden of the Population in their care.”
He lamented that though the plea bargain theory had been part of the criminal justice system for over a decade in Lagos State, yet it’s applicability has been poorly utilized by lawyers.
The Attorney-General informed that in many jurisdictions, plea bargaining has served as an important, useful and effective tool used to keep the wheels of justice moving in a timely and cost effective manner
Giving an overview of the Manual, the Commissioner explained that the booklet was prepared in a very simple English to ensure that even the layman on the street can understand it.
“I recommend the use of plea bargain to all and sundry. Private counsels should imbibe the culture of advising their clients appropriately especially in the face of overwhelming evidence rather than the usual practice of encouraging them to plead “not guilty.
“The manual provides practical information about what Plea Bargain entails and the procedure for applying and general information that would make the process less complicated for all stakeholders. It is presented in very simple English to ensure that even the layman on the street can understand it” the commissioner added.
Kazeem, who said that he was mindful of the fact that the law placed the burden on the prosecution to prove its case beyond reasonable doubt, however, maintained that defence has a pivotal role to play in Court administration.
The Attorney-General, while saying that the state government recognised the fact that there were many challenges bedevilling the criminal justice system in Nigeria, especially in Lagos State given its high population, however, reiterated that the administration of Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode was committed to tackling the issues and proposing appropriate reforms.
The representative of the Lagos Commissioner of Police, Bolaji Salami assured Lagosians that the Police Force would take full advantage of the law and implement its content to the letter.
The Divisional Chairmen of the Nigeria Bar Association, NBA, Lagos State Chapter opined that lawyers should be educated about the provisions and workings of the manual for effective use.
They said that the numbers of legal officers including Magistrates in the State are grossly inadequate, adding that the efforts of the State Government in judicial reforms would not yield the expected results if the inadequacy was not addressed.