No fewer than 1,154 offenders have been sentenced to various terms of community service across the 12 magisterial districts of Lagos State, in the last seven years.
Mr Ade Ipaye, Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, disclosed this on Friday in Ikeja at a news conference to mark Gov. Babatunde Fashola`s sixth year in office.
According to him, the offenders, aged between 20 and 40, were mostly male, adding that they would have been otherwise incarcerated in prisons with the attendant disruption of their social and economic lives.
Ipaye explained that community service, a non-custodial punishment enshrined in the state`s Criminal Law, was one of its strategies at ensuring speedy dispensation of justice.
He acknowledged that prison congestion was a major issue in the state, but assured that government was aggressively exploring the option of community service and other avenues to address the problem.
“Through community service, which requires offenders to do some community work, we have succeeded in de-congesting the prison system without compromising the justice administration system.
“We have designed other initiatives to ensure inmates do not await trial for too long. These include the introduction of Saturday sittings for magistrates, and early issuance of legal advice”.
The commissioner defended the congestion of offenders at the premises of the state`s Task Force for Special Offences, and that this was informed by the nature of offences handled by the task force, noting that the state Directorate of Public Prosecution (DPP) was currently prosecuting a total 762 cases in the various courts, saying 612 of the cases were in the state High Court and 19 at Federal High Court.
He added that 36 and four cases were at the Appeal and Supreme Courts respectively, while 101 cases were at different stages of prosecution at the various magistrate courts
Ipaye said the government had successfully defended the appeal filed by the General Overseer of Christian Praying Assembly, Chukwuemeka Ezeugo (Rev. King) against his conviction for murder.
He said one of the 12 judgments delivered at the State and Appeal Courts in favour of the state was the conviction of one Olatokunbo Olagunju for conspiracy to murder a student of Yaba College of Technology.
The commissioner said the government was taking the issue of tax evasion seriously, and that 300 files were currently being treated preparatory for prosecution of defaulters.
Ipaye described law and order as a pre-condition for development, and that the government would do everything possible to ensure the law worked for the good of the residents.