The Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, SAN, says the Nigerian Correctional Service is set to establish studios across the centres for recording of inmates’ evidence.
Malami said this in his keynote address delivered during the Webinar/Virtual Interactive Session with Attorneys-General and Heads of Courts of the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory Held in Abuja on Friday.
“This will make it possible for evidence of suspects in custody to be taken without their physical presence in court, and is meant to ensure that the administration of justice is not disrupted.
“Our judicial officers have been advised to be cautious in granting remand orders except in exceptional circumstances and subject to the guidelines to be put in place by the Ministry of Interior and the Nigerian Correctional Service.
“We have also developed an implementation strategy for the Nigerian Correctional Service Act, 2019 through the installation of an ICT enabled National Criminal Database to promote effective information management in criminal justice administration, decongestion of Correctional Centres and non-custodial measures’’.
According to him, `These measures are for effective management of Correctional Centres for the reformation, rehabilitation and reintegration of offenders back to the society.
“We have also proposed decentralisation of Correctional Service Centres to allow for states to effectivly manage offenders who commit state offences while the Federal government will continue to manage offenders who commit federal offences.
“These measures, no doubt, will address the problem of congestion in the Correctional Centres as witnessed presently”.
He also emphasized the need for a paradigm shift in the administration of justice through the deployment of appropriate technologies to drive administration of justice.
“The purpose of this virtual meeting is to provide the platform for engagement and articulation of our collective views on the issues arising from the Covid-19 pandemic and harmonise our resolutions on the way forward”.
The AGF said that about 6,590 inmates have so far been released through the work of the Presidential Committee on the decongestion of Correctional Centres and that of the Presidential Advisory Committee on Prerogative of Mercy Committee.
“The State Chief Judges have also been advised to undertake regular jail delivery visits to the Correctional Centres for the purpose of releasing inmates that satisfy the criteria set-out for the release of such inmates’’.
He added that the ministry has completed the establishment of ICT Studios and the deployment of Galaxy Backbone dedicated lines that will facilitate the prosecution of criminal cases as well as the defence of civil cases using the virtual platform.
“However, owing to the serious threat covid-19 poses to inmates in the Correctional Centres, admission into the Centres has been discouraged pending when measures are put in place to manage the Centres and protect the inmates’’.
He said that ICT is also deployed in the receipt and processing of correspondence to further minimise the person-to-person contact between officials of the Ministry and members of the public.
He stressed that as the biggest Law Chambers in Nigeria, if not in Africa, the ministry must continue to lead the process of innovation in the administration of justice.
“My desire is to work with stakeholders to articulate a holistic response to the challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic to the administration of justice in the country.
“We have to adopt systems that will reduce the physical presence or involvement of persons in the judicial process through the deployment of technology.
“Our justice system is founded on the constitutional principle of fundamental rights to fair hearing that requires the court to hear and determine cases in public and the physical presence of the parties in court.
“However, given that physical contact has been established as one of the modes of spreading the deadly virus, it has become imperative for us to put in place, legislations and policies that will engender a justice system that promotes social/physical distancing’’.
He commended the Heads of Courts and Attorneys-General who have already started the process of deploying and applying virtual court rooms and proceedings to promote social distancing and minimise the physical presence of court users.
“We must continue to forge the needed synergy and collaboration to administer justice in the face of the pandemic and in line with global best practice”.
The Minister also revealed that the Federal Government has constituted Special Committees to achieve its cardinal goals.
“These include the Committee on Implementation of Designated Corruption Prosecution Courts for the prosecution of all corruption related cases with the aim of fast-tracking their completion.
“There is also a Committee on the Review of Judicial Salaries and Conditions of Service to ensure that the welfare of our noble judicial officers reflect current realities with no commensurate increase in the salaries and allowances of judicial officers for over 10 years”.