Lagos State Government in collaboration with National Institute for Trial Advocacy (NITA), Colorado, USA and Rule of Law and Anti-Corruption (ROLAC) has organized a 5-Day intensive training on Plea-Bargaining and Child Justice System as part of efforts to improve the understanding and performance of lawyers both inside and outside the courtroom to serve the citizens of Lagos State and Nigeria better.
Speaking at the opening ceremony held at the Headquarter of Office of the Public Defender (OPD), Surulere, Lagos, the State Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Mr.Adeniji Kazeem, SAN, said that Plea bargaining and Child Justice System is one that is critical to a fair and speedy dispensation of Justice, court decongestion and to the overall justice delivery system in Nigeria particular in Lagos State.
According to him, “This also align with the Policy of Lagos State Government under the able Leadership of His Excellency, Governor Akinwunmi Ambode that all person irrespective of means must have equal access to justice, thus fostering Rule of Law and societal development.
He stated that in many jurisdiction, plea bargaining has served as an important and useful tool used to keep the wheels of justice moving in a timely and cost effective manner adding that plea bargaining theory has been part of criminal justice system for over a decade in Lagos State, yet its applicability has been poorly utilized by lawyers.
The Commissioner for Justice further explained that another aspect of the weeklong training would focus on Child Justice System mainly guided by the Child’s right Law of Lagos State,2015 adding that the law makes adequate provisions to ensure that child justice matters are managed in a rights-based manner to assist children (under the age of 18 years) suspected of committing crimes to have a second chance in life and become productive members of society by using restorative justice measures, diversions and other alternative sentencing options.
He also added that the Directorate of Public Prosecutions now has a Sexual Offences and Child Justice Unit so as to monitor cases involving child offenders and to ensure that recommendations are made where necessary stressing that plans are underway to unveil the Restorative Justice Project soonest.
In the same vein, the Chief Judge of Lagos State, Justice Opeyemi Oke said that the theme of the training “Plea Bargaining and Child Justice System are germane in Criminal Justice system adding that the importance of regular training programmes cannot be overemphasized as they keep the sword sharpened and the mind alive.
Justice Opeyemi Oke explained that plea bargaining system is gradually gaining ground in Nigeria as it has become very famous in the legal and socio-political lexicon today.
In her words, “arguably, since its incorporation as a feature of our Criminal Justice Administration, it has proven to be a useful tool in aiding criminal justice administration and has also curtailed undue delays in the dispensation of criminal justice. A considerable number of high profile cases prosecuted by anti-graft agencies have been concluded using the plea bargaining tool which, to my mind, is a form of criminal justice package on its own”.
According to her, “In the United States where it is deeply entrenched, the Columbia Law Review reports that about ninety percent of the criminal defendants convicted in State and Federal Courts plead guilty rather than exercise their right to stand trial before a Court or Jury. There has been a lot of debate in Nigeria on the constitutionality or otherwise of Plea Bargaining”.
Justice OpeyemiOke stated that the Administration of Criminal Justice Law in Lagos State has lent its hands in a push towards the adoption of the concept of plea bargaining as an accepted procedure in criminal proceedings, stressing that Section 75 and 76 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Law of Lagos State has firmly entrenched Plea Bargaining into its Criminal Justice System.
“It is here to stay and its gladdens my heart that we are here to partake of the wealth of knowledge and experience from our fellow judges in the United State, our Judges and other local faculty”, She said.
Earlier in her welcome address, the Director Office of the Public Defender,Mrs. Olayinka Adeyemi stated that with the myriad of caps OPD worn, the only way to ensure that the special breed of Officers continue to give its best is by continuous capacity building hence the need for training.
While pointing out that the numbers of judgments to the credit of the Office in Year 2016 was 239; 317 in Year 2017 and in Year 2018 was 811 as records are yet to be tallied for the month of December 2018, Mrs. Adeyemi said, “We listen, we understand, we empathize, we comfort, we go to battle for every deserving citizen that walks through our doors. We are friend, we are mediator, we are negotiator, we are marriage counsellor, keeper of the peace, time keeper, parent, guardian ad litem, administrator, social worker, we are rescuer, a shoulder to lean on, we are lawyers, we are OPD”.
The week-long training programme of which 20 International and Local Trainers will train over 80 participants which includes; Judges, Magistrates, Senior Police Officers, Counsel among others will come to an end on Friday, January 18, 2019.