The Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Tanko Muhammad, has ordered the heads of various courts to immediately speed up the trial of cases and decongestion of custodial centres in the country.
In a statement personally signed by him on Friday, he said there was a need to take the urgent measures in view of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
Justice Muhammad, who is also the Chairman of the National Judicial Council, explained that the United Nations had called for the reduction of the population of prison inmates to aid physical distancing in such facilities.
According to him, records show that Nigeria has about 74,127 inmates at various custodial centres and 52,226 are Awaiting Trial Persons (ATPs).
The CJN was worried that most of the centres were housing inmates beyond their capacities and the congested facilities were harmful to the health of the inmates.
He, therefore, directed the heads of courts to urgently visit all custodial and correctional centres within their jurisdictions to identify and release deserving inmates, where that has not been done already.
Justice Muhammad recommended the conditional and unconditional release, as well as payment of fines of awaiting trial persons depending on the categories they fall within.
He also asked the justices to forward a report of their visits to him for compilation and onward transmission to the relevant authorities.
Read the full statement by the CJN below:
RE: URGENT NEED FOR SPEEDY TRIAL OF CASES AND DECONGESTION OF CUSTODIAL CENTRES
Ref. No. NJC/CIR/HOC/II/662 15th May 2020
To: All Chief Judges,
States Judiciaries and FCT.
I wish to draw Your Lordships attention to the need to take urgent measures towards the speedy trial of cases and decongestion of custodial centres in the country in view of COVID-19 Pandemic.
Recently, the United Nations 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.
From available records, the inmates’ population at various custodial centres across the country presently stands at about 74,127 out of which 52,226 are Awaiting Trial Persons (ATPs).
Most of these custodial centres 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 an 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 Chief Judges are enjoined to consider the conditional or unconditional release of Awaiting Trial Persons who have spent 6 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 the option of fines and inmates who have less than 3 years term left to serve having served a substantial term of their service for offences that attract 5 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.
The list of deserving inmates as provided by the Correctional Service Formations across the Country with above criteria is hereby attached for your guidance.
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.
Finally, there is the need to ensure that Your Lordships 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 will regulate the volume of entry of Awaiting Trial Inmates into custodial centres.
Hon. Dr. Justice I. T. Muhammad, CFR
Chief Justice of Nigeria and Chairman
National Judicial Council