By Kunle Olasanmi, Abuja
Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, SAN said the Consolidated Federal Capital Territory Courts Sentencing Guidelines and Practice will accelerate decongestion of Correctional Centres nationwide.
The Minister made the remark at the signing of the Consolidated Federal Capital Territory Courts (Custodial and Non – Custodial Sentencing ) Practice Directions, 2020.
He said introduction of non-custodial sentences by the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015 and more recently, the provision of a clear legislative and institutional framework for their implementation by the Nigerian Correctional Service Act, 2019 were efforts by the Federal Government aimed at addressing the colossal problem of congestion in correctional facilities in Nigeria.
“The provision for non-custodial sentences such as probation, community service, restitution, compensation and suspended sentence by the ACJA 2015, was one of the main innovations of the Act”, he said.
He noted that on August 17th, 2020, during the Virtual Interactive Session to review the Draft of the FCT Courts Sentencing Guidelines and Practice Directions, 2020, organized by the Presidential Committee on Correctional Service Reform and Decongestion in collaboration with the Federal Ministry of Justice, he explained that the Federal Capital Territory Courts Sentencing Guidelines and Practice Directions 2020 was geared towards implementing one of the major recommendations of the National Workshop on the Effective Implementation of the Nigerian Correctional Service Act, 2019, held between the 25th – 27th November, 2019 in Abuja.
He said at that Workshop which brought together critical Stakeholders in the Administration of Justice Sector, both at the State and Federal levels, it was resolved that, for a proper and effective implementation of the Nigerian Correctional Service Act, 2019, Sentencing Guidelines and Practice Direction commencing with the FCT, should be produced as a matter of urgency and issued especially for the implementation of non-custodial measures provided under Part II of the Nigerian Correctional Service Act, 2019.
The Minister said following the harmonization of the inputs of the stakeholders at the National Workshop, a Technical Working Committee with Mr. P. C OKORIE as the Consultant, put in place by the Federal Ministry of Justice in collaboration with the Presidential Committee on Correctional Service Reform and Decongestion subsequently developed a Draft FCT Courts (Non-Custodial Sentence) Practice Directions, 2020.
Also at the ceremony, the Chief Judge of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, Justice Ishaq Bello, said the signing of the sentencing guideline is a milestone achievement in the FCT Judiciary because lack of sentences ng guideline in the past has led to misconception with the court often being accused of either being unduly lenient or of playing to the gallery by imposing severe punishment upon conviction especially in cases of public interest.
Justice Bello, who is also the Chairman of the Presidential Committee, said developing a set of guideline circumscribe the latitude to impose sentences but within the limit prescribed in statuses.
He said, ”The proposed guidelines will therefore provide a system for handing down uniform or consistent sentences for similar crimes where it is strictly followed.
”It has been developed and remodeled to assist judge decide with the potential to help eliminate confusion among judges in determining the proper punishment for a convict taking into consideration factors such as nature of the crime, prior criminal history and public interest.
”Another potential benefits of the application of the guidelines is that the resulting sentences become fairly predictable and the jurisdiction can begin to use that information to forecast and manage correctional resources”.
According to the report on the consolidated federal capital territory courts (custodial and non-custodial sentencing) practice directions, 2020, the review and consultation commenced on 17th of August 2020 with a virtual interactive session attended by over 100 participants from the Justice sector including the Chief Judge of Lagos State.
The report said valuable contributions were made at the session by participants while the following stakeholders made written submissions and contributions.
The stakeholders include, European Union, Professor Yemi Akinseye-George, SAN, for Rule of Law and Anti-corruption Programme (RoLAC), Director General NIALS, Prof. Muhammed Tawfiq Ladan; Chairman, Nigeria Law Reform Commission, Prof. Jummai A.M.Audi. Executive Secretary, National Human Rights Commission.
Others are Dr. Esa Onoja, Independent Corrupt Practices Commission and Prof. Adedeji Adekunle, SAN, FIMC.
The report said, ”The virtual session was organised by the Presidential Committee on Correctional Service Reform and Decongestion in collaboration with the Federal Ministry of Justice.
The virtual session was followed by a 3-day technical session held from 19th-21st of August 2020.
”The technical session which consisted of some judges and magistrates of the FCT further revised the Draft Consolidated Sentencing Guidelines after critically reviewing its provisions and the contributions of stakeholders”.