The Rule of Law and Anti-Corruption (RoLAC) Programme is promoting inter-agency wide and cross-sectoral technical consultations on bail reform. The focus is on how technology could be used to incentivise courts to expand access to bail and deter defendants from jumping bail.
In December, consultations took place with representatives from key justice agencies as well as from financial and telecommunications sectors, including sector regulators like the Central Bank of Nigeria and the Nigerian Communications Commission, amongst others.
The need has arisen due to the disproportionately high number of inmates in the Nigerian Correctional Centre’s whose trials have not commenced or have dragged on for a prolonged period. As of 6 December 2021, official data from the Nigerian Correctional Service cited a total of 71,383 inmates – made up of 19,865 convicted persons (28%) and 51,518 awaiting trial persons (72%).
Despite the statutory innovations to address bail in the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, many inmates continue to be denied access. A primary reason is the lingering apprehension of the inability to track and apprehend offenders who jump bail. Thus, courts habitually impose stringent bail conditions that ensure that most defendants remain in prison custody because they are unable to meet the conditions.
RoLAC is also inspired by the outbreak of COVID-19 to get bail reform right. Since the outbreak of the virus, various countries have taken measures to prevent outbreaks in correctional facilities by regulating the inflow of new inmates. For Nigeria, bail reform is a major step in that direction.
Though the consultations are still ongoing, the emerging consensus is that technology offers an expanding range of solutions that can be deployed to strengthen the efficiency of the criminal justice system. It can also provide courts with the guarantees they need that exercising discretion to release a defendant on bail would not ultimately impair the criminal trial process and putting the public at risk.
“Technology would positively impact our bail reform process in Nigeria.”
Lawrence Abang, Assistant Director, National Communications Commission