The Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Mahmud Mohammed, has called on magistrates to stop imposing stringent conditions for bail, which an accused who has no real hope of meeting them, thereby causing some suspects to continue to languish in prisons.
A statement signed by the Media Aide to the CJN Mr Ahuraka Yusuf Isah, said the CJN made the call when the National Executives of the Magistrates Association of Nigeria led by its acting national president, Chief Magistrate Victoria Isiguzo, paid him and 15 other justices of the Supreme Court a courtesy visit.
The CJN noted that a large number of persons were detained without charge, while others were detained pending further investigation, commonly known as “awaiting trial.”
Besides, a lot of other people are detained on first information reports which, upon examination, may operate as holding charge while the prosecutor seeks more evidence to back up their trial. In those situations the suspect, who is not proven guilty, is often incarcerated.
The CJN called on magistrates to stop indulging the police by admitting to bail a suspect whose case the police were not ready to prosecute.
He said: “A corollary to this is the imposition of such bail terms which an accused has no real hope of meeting. I wish to use this medium to counsel magistrates to judiciously and carefully exercise their discretion to remand and consider alternatives to detention where possible, and to set reasonable bail terms as appropriate.”
Justice Mohammed however said that the judiciary was worried about the woes of the magistrates whom he likened to ‘’proverbial animals that are neither mammals nor birds’’; just as they were neither judges nor civil servants per se.
He said: “Magistrates perform judicial functions and they are bound by the Code of Conduct for Judicial Officers, but Section 318 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) does not recognise them as judicial officers.
‘’Consequently, we are including proposals to the National Assembly that the magistrates be formally considered as judicial officers as defined under Section 318 of the Constitution, given the undeniable relevance of our Magistracy to justice dispensation in the country.’’
Justice Mohammed also cautioned the magistrates to avoid being used by politicians to keep their rivals out of the circulation or to be used to intimidate opponents during this year’s election cycle.
“I must urge you to shun corruption and unnecessary affiliations with the political class or politically exposed persons who may not hesitate to turn you into instrument of intimidation or use you to remove his or her rivals from the circulation during this year’s election cycle,’’ he added.
The CJN and the justices also played host to the Chairman of the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), Mr. Ekpo Nta and other top officials of the commission.
The CJN said that the commitment of the Judiciary to speedy dispensation of justice led to the introduction of Practice Directions in 2013 to fast track major crimes and corruption cases in addition to dedicating some judges/courts to hear and determine economic crimes and corruption matters.
He, however, advised the commission to avail itself of these rules and the designated courts so as to ensure that corruption and economic crimes cases were promptly determined.
He also advised the commission to strengthen its investigation and prosecution units and support charges with evidence for speedy trial of cases.