Former Solicitor-General of Lagos State, Mr. Lawal Pedro, SAN has faulted plans by Federal Government to establish courtrooms within prison premises as a way of decongesting the prisons.
President Muhammadu Buhari had recently said that the office of the Attorney-General of the Federation was considering building courtrooms within prison premises across the country.
Speaking on a radio programme Factfile on Raypower, Pedro stated that putting courtrooms inside prison premises will only amount to an expensive adhoc exercise that will not solve the perennial problem of prison congestion.
He suggested that other approaches such as putting all criminal trials on fast-track mode and devolution of powers to allow state build and manage prisons should be urgently considered.
“Building a courtroom inside the prison will not solve the problem of prison congestion. It will simply amount to an adhoc exercise. What happens thereafter? Rather than do that, the judiciary should put all criminal trials on a fast-track mode.”
“With due respect to Mr. President, prison congestion been a scandal is no longer news to anyone. My take on this matter is that the role of the judiciary is secondary. The other arms of government has the primary responsibility in decongesting the prisons.
“Take the National Assembly for example. Since the National Assembly have been working against devolution of power to the state in the ongoing constitutional amendment, by which issues such as Prison and the congestion of the prisons will come under the concurrent legislative list in the Constitution
“I suggest that the National Assembly consider delegation of duties to the State in the Constitutional amendment However pending when that happens, it should consider amendment of the Prison Act to make conceded some powers to the States to establish and maintain state prisons particularly for offenders of state offences.
“Pending when constitutional amendment comes, that will go a long way in the management of the prisons. The same thing should also goes for the Police Act. If the Police Act can be amended, to ensure that the commissioner of police or even AIG in a state is subject to the control of the Attorney General of the State as far as the administration of criminal justice is concerned.
“Imagine a matter pending in court and you are told that the Investigating Police Officer, IPO has been transferred to somewhere in the North while the officer is to testify in a matter in Lagos. How does that officer get to Lagos? So before any police officer involved in an ongoing matter is posted out of the state, the Attorney-General of that state must give a clearance that he has no pending matter in court before the officer is posted out because this is another factor responsible for delays in the administration of justice.
“The idea of adjournment of criminal trial for more than a week or one month while the defendant is in custody should be outlawed. If after 30 days of arraignment and the prosecution is not ready to proceed with the trial, the court should be allowed to set the defendant free with the exception of cases for murder, treason and other heinous crimes,” he stated.
On the issue of introducing parole into the Nigerian Prisons system, Pedro noted that it is indeed an ideal thing but that Nigeria lacks the necessary database to effectively run a parole system.
“I am sorry but in Nigeria where we lack data, that cannot work. In all other countries where parole system operates, they have the right data of all their citizens. As at now, we don’t even know our real population figures. So imagine if someone is given parole in Lagos and he runs to Sokoto and change his name, how do you trace him? What we should do is to harmonise all the data collected by various agencies in the country. If we have the right data, then parole can be consider as a way of decongesting the prisons,’ he said.