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Plea - Bargaining: Stakeholders Move Against Inclusion Of Sexual Offences, Corruption Cases

Source: thewillnigeria.com
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SAN FRANCISCO, May 07, (THEWILL) – Stakeholders at a workshop on the Practice and Perspectives of Plea Bargaining in Nigeria which held in Abuja on Tuesday unanimously moved against the inclusion murder, sexual offences and corruption cases among cases that could be settled by plea bargaining in the country’s law courts.

Making their contributions at the workshop where a draft bill on plea bargaining prepared by the Nigerian Law Reform Commission (NLRC) was considered, the stakeholders, comprising of judges, lawyers, anti-corruption agencies and others in the criminal justice sector, said though plea-bargaining would reduce the time and resources spent on trying criminals, the concept should not apply to certain offences.

Speaking at the event, the chairman of the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related Offences Commission (ICPC), Mr. Ekpo Nta, warned against the extension of plea bargaining to offences of homicide, murder, manslaughter, infanticide, genocide and the likes where lives were terminated for ever.

He also object to the application of the concept in cases of kidnapping, rape, sexual abuse, indecent assault and other forms of crime not only because of the social stigma on the victims but to prevent a situation of continual insecurity if the offenders were allowed to take advantage of lesser charge or sentence that might allow them a quick integration into society to perpetrate more crimes.

Represented at the occasion by the Acting Deputy Director Legal of the Commission, Akeem Lawal, the ICPC chairman said “On the other hand, however, it would seem that offences like stealing of small amounts of money, thievery and common assault, stealing of animals, articles and properties, dealing in stolen goods, traffic offences and other heads of crimes that are not seriously life threatening, with the exception of armed robbery, should ordinarily be considered amenable to determination by plea bargaining process in order to save time and decongest our courts."

According to Nta, due to the reason that corruption crimes involve persons charged with public trusts, handling resources meant for the benefits and economic welfare of millions of citizens and the development of the society, they cannot, but be regarded as crimes that breach all the fundamental rights of other persons to an extent that could lead to mass fatality which could arise from hunger, famine, lack of medical facilities, road accidents, deprivation of economic opportunity for life.

"And indeed, they have the potential to truncate the dreams and aspirations of the youth of any nation to qualitative education," the ICPC chief added.

Nta said the ICPC had considered the draft bill on plea bargaining as attached to the working paper, saying "We consider it appropriate, but would only advise that it should not be made applicable to cases with serious moral reprehension on the lives of Nigerians."

A judge of the Abuja High Court, Justice Ishaq Bello, in his contribution, said the application of the concept in criminal matters would escalate the rate of crime in the country. He pointed out that applying the concept in criminal matters would make the nation more vulnerable to the commission of criminal offences.

"Cases like corruption, rape, fraud and stealing of public funds should never be part of the concept of plea bargaining. I don't also agree that there is the need for sentence bargaining. I believe that plea bargain should only come when it is difficult for the prosecution to prove a case of corruption as a means of recovering some of the looted funds," he said.

The NLRC , Justice Umaru Atu Kalgo, in his opening remarks, quoted from the Black's Law dictionary as he defined plea bargaining as the process whereby the accused and the prosecution in a criminal case work out a mutually satisfactory disposition of the case subject to court approval.

He said it usually involves the defendants pleading guilty to a lesser offence or to only one or some of the counts of a multi-count indictment in return for a lighter sentence than that possible for the graver charge.

"It is clear from the above definition that the process is subject to court approval but there is no doubt that by pleading guilty to a charge or charges, the time for trial of the case is saved and expenses involved minimized," he said.

According to Kalgo, who is also a retired Justice of the Supreme Court, “The disposition of criminal charges by agreement between the prosecutor and the accused is, in my view, an essential component of the criminal justice administration and, if properly followed, will eliminate or reduce to minimum the time and expenses involved in full-scale trials.”

He also noted: "In Nigeria, there is no Federal law yet specifically allowing plea bargaining process. What is very near to it is the provision of Section 14(2) of the Economic and Economic Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) Act which provides subject to the provisions of section 174 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, (which relates to power Attorney-General of the Federation to institute, constitute, take over or discontinue criminal procedure against any person in any court of law), the Commission may compound any offence punishable under this Act by accepting such some money's as it thinks fit, not exceeding the maximum amount which that person would have been liable if he had been convicted of that offence.

"Also the Criminal Procedure Code Law (CPCL) section 339 which applies to Northern States, sets out clearly which offences can be compounded, the procedure for doing so and the effect thereof. It is obviously clear that although the word ‘compound’ is used in the EFCC Act and the CPCL, the compounding processes is different and neither of them can be described as plea bargaining.

"It was argued that the compounding process under the EFCC Act allows offenders to receive insignificant punishment thereby undermining the deterrent aspect of criminal sanction."

Justice Kalgo however disclosed that NLRC was working under its mandate under section 5 and 7 of its enabling Act that empowered it to take and keep under review all Federal laws with a view to their systematic and progressive development and reform in consonance with the prevailing norms of the Nigerian society.

The Acting Director, Legal Services , EFCC, Chile Okoroma, on his part, said EFCC did not on its own go out to offer plea bargaining, pointing out that "before we start discussing plea bargaining, we must have recovered all the proceeds of crime or on the verge of recovering everything the person stole.

"Most of the cases of plea bargaining were not initiated by the EFCC but the counsel to the accused person.

"The systematic problem in our justice sector is one of the major challenges against securing conviction of these politically exposed persons. We have cases involving so many former governors which we started since 2007, we are yet to make any head way as they appeal against any interlocutory application even up to the Supreme Court," he said.