…calls for implementation of non-custodial sanctions
In a bid to reduce the swelling number of awaiting trial inmates in the country, the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Prince Lateef Fagbemi, SAN, on Monday, called for the implementation of non-custodial measures and sentencing guidelines under the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015.
The AGF further urged trial judges to stop remanding minor offenders with hardened criminals, a situation he said lead them to end up being initiated into a life of crime instead of being reformed.
He said the purpose of non-custodial measures was to find effective alternatives to imprisonment for offenders.
In an address he presented at the opening session of a two-day workshop on the implementation of the Non-Custodial Measures and Sentencing Guidelines under the ACJA, 2015, the AGF, who was represented by a Director at the Federal Ministry of Justice, Mrs. Leticia Ayoola-Daniel, described sentencing as a core judicial function in criminal justice.
He said: “In discharging that function, the sentencing Judge must strive to achieve the right balance between imposing a merited sentence in the case at hand, while maintaining a broad level of consistency with other cases so that sentencing at a systematic level is fair.
“Sentencing guidelines and frameworks are best understood as means to enable the sentencing court to strike that sometimes elusive balance.
“The Administration of Criminal Justice Act was enacted and came into force on May 13, 2015.
“The Act placed premium on non-custodial sentences. In line with ACJA 2015, the Federal Government has set out guidelines to stipulate the requirements and procedure for imposing Non-Custodial sentencing for the purpose of preventing abuse and ensuring reasonable uniformity and fairness in the imposition of sentences.
“In order to facilitate the application and effective use of the non-custodial sentencing, the legal and regulatory framework must be effectively implemented.
“The purpose of non-custodial measures is to find effective alternatives to imprisonment for offenders.
“This is in accordance with the current global shift in punishing convicts with alternatives to prison terms.
“The aim of the trend is to give the judges and magistrates much latitude and discretion to award befitting and purposeful punishment to convicts aside the punishment suggested by the statute creating the offence.
“Since the coming into effect of the Practice Direction in 2020, the sentencing landscape has continued to develop rapidly and extensively.
“The courts have handed down many more sentencing frameworks to guide the exercise of sentencing discretion in a broadly consistent way.
“It is my believe that this Workshop would provide a timely opportunity for us to reflect on recent developments, so that we can look to what might lie ahead of us in the context of sentencing in our courts.
“Today we have seen countless cases where defendants are arrested for minor offences and locked up in prisons adding to the population of awaiting trial inmates.
“These offenders remanded with hardened criminals end up being initiated into a life of crime instead of being reformed.
“The aim of this workshop is to share knowledge on the effective use of these instruments that will lead to a decrease in arbitrary punishments, uniformity in punishments, and utilization of alternatives to imprisonment to decrease the population of awaiting trial inmates.
“The use of non custodial measure has facilitated reduction in our correctional facility to the barest minimum in line with section 470(2)(c) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA), 2015 and section 2(1)(b) of the Nigerian Correctional Services Act, 2019.
“The guidelines provides appropriate standards and measures for the sentencing process in offence against the State, Person, Public order for the purpose of uniformity and fairness in sentencing which will further strengthen the criminal procedure system.
“The Success of any system of criminal justice administration depends on the level of effective implementation of the guidelines by the agencies involved.
“All participants in this workshop remain undoubtedly indispensable stakeholders playing crucial roles in enhancing law and order through the performance of a constellation of functions such as prevention of crime, detection, investigation and apprehension of offenders and enforcement of the law.
“It is our hope that the Non custodial measures and sentencing guidelines will be more operational and effectively implemented in order to achieve the objectives and purposes of the reforms in the criminal sector.
“The Federal Ministry of Justice as the leading stakeholder in the Justice Administration in Nigeria will continue to develop appropriate frameworks and measures to overcome the unique challenges in the Criminal Justice sector and strengthen the application of law to align with International best practices,” he added.
Among participants at the workshop included trial judges, lawyers and senior officials of the Justice Ministry.