The Rule of Law and Anti-Corruption (RoLAC) Programme is working to support the implementation of the the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA). In line with Section 34 of the Act, magistrates are now increasingly inspecting detention facilities across the states. This is as a result of training for the magistrates and the Divisional Police Officers (DPOs) and advocacy visits to the heads of agencies, supported by RoLAC.
The Act aims to reduce the pretrial detention of suspects by improving transparency and efficiency in the disposal of criminal cases. It states that Chief Magistrates or other designated magistrates conduct inspections of police stations or other places of detention within their territorial jurisdiction (other than the prison). The magistrate may: (a) call for, and inspect, the record of arrests; (b) direct the arraignment of a suspect; and (c) where bail has been refused, grant bail to any suspect where appropriate, if the offence for which the suspect is held is within the jurisdiction of the magistrate.
The Administration of Criminal Justice Laws (ACJL) of the states have provisions like Section 34 of the ACJA and requires magistrates to conduct these visits monthly.
Following the piloting of the inspection visits in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), replication training was held in Lagos, Anambra, Edo, Kano, and Adamawa states. The training was facilitated by magistrates in the FCT with experience inspecting detention facilities.
Following the training, 10 magistrates made the first round of visits to Police Divisions, including the State Anti-Robbery (SARS) facility. During the visits, approximately 98 suspects (some of whom have been in detention for two weeks) were seen and interviewed; 44 of them were granted bail; and followed up to ensure they were released when they presented their sureties. Twenty-two suspects were outrightly discharged as they were cases of illegal arrests; while 32 cases, mostly from the SARS detention facility, were charged to court.
A magistrate, accompanied by lawyers from the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) and the Office of the Public Defender, visited the SARS facility in Ikeja to offer free legal assistance to detainees.
Six of the trained magistrates have commenced inspection visits to police stations. They visited police stations and special police units, such as the Special Intelligence Bureau (SIB), which handles cybercrime and fraud related offences; and the Criminal Investigation and Intelligence Department (CIID), which handles capital offences like robbery, homicide, rape, and kidnapping. Seven persons, including two women, were released by the magistrates, while the police were directed to charge four others to court.
Some of the magistrates interviewed commended the reception they received from the officers at the facilities visited.
‘The innovative approach of magistrates visiting the police station to inspect the cells is a laudable one... This has reduced the number of people detained unnecessarily.’
Olabimpe Bamidele, NBA Ikorodu