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Tuesday, 1 May 2018

Magu to lawyers, judiciary: stop frustrating cases

Magu to lawyers, judiciary: stop frustrating cases

Mr Ibrahim Magu

Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) Acting Chairman Ibrahim Magu has criticised some lawyers “who specialise in frustrating cases”.

He said the judiciary also contributes to delays through frequent transfer of judges who are forced to abandon cases.

Magu accused lawyers of filing frivolous applications to stall cases and intimidating judges with “groundless petitions”.

To the EFCC chair, such factors have made the prosecution of suspects “extremely challenging”.

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Magu spoke at the Fifth Criminal Justice Reform Conference in Asaba, the Delta State capital.

It was organised by the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) Criminal Justice Reform Committee chaired by Chief Arthur Obi Okafor (SAN).

Magu, represented by EFCC’s Head of Legal, Gbolahan Latona, said: “It is extremely challenging in Nigeria today to prosecute defendants, particularly in corruption, economic and financial crimes.

“Some defence counsel pride themselves in their ability to stall prosecution of cases by endless and sometimes frivolous interlocutory applications and appeals; blackmailing and intimidating judges who do not yield to their gimmicks with groundless petitions; and encouraging their defendant clients to malinger etc.

“To those lawyers, what makes a good lawyer is his ability to use every means available to prevent or frustrate the trial, weary the anti-corruption agencies and their witnesses so that the case would not be determined on its merits but rather on technicality.”

According to Magu, other challenges faced by EFCC in prosecuting corruption, economic and financial crimes include high cost of investigation and prosecution, constitutional constraints, jurisdictional, procedural and evidential issues; international co-operation issues, socio-cultural challenges and delay in the judicial process.

“Undue delay in the judicial process has been identified as one of the most daunting challenges in the prosecution of corruption, economic and financial crimes in particular and others in general. It has become an albatross of the entire criminal justice system of Nigeria.

“However, the Administration of Criminal Justice Act now has provisions that attempts to curb some of these excesses,” he said.

In Magu’s view, delays are aggravated by the congestion of cases, slow pace of proceedings occasioned by insufficient number of judges, the manual recording system and frequent transfer of Federal High Court judges.

He said: “A transfer of a Federal High Court judge poses a great challenge in the prosecution of corruption related crimes. Although fiats can be granted to judges for the conclusion of part-heard cases, it may be burdensome for the concerned judges, given the heavy caseloads in their new divisions.

“Some of them who showed strong determination to conclude such cases sometimes become wearied or discouraged by the negative attitude of counsel, particularly the defence.

“Several cases have been started de novo or afresh because of the transfer, retirement or elevation of the presiding judges. This entails bringing the witnesses to court afresh for their testimonies with the attendant challenges in terms of their availability, willingness; and incidental financial costs.

“This above scenario necessitated major players in the criminal justice sector to question the effectiveness of extant provisions such as Section 19 (3) of the EFCC Act aimed at expediting criminal trials.”

“Calls were therefore made for a paradigm shift which included the enactment of new procedural rules and creation of special courts to try corruption related offences,” the EFCC chair said.

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Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) President Abubakar Mahmoud (SAN) regretted that Nigeria still labours under ineffective administration of justice, with recent events putting undue stress on the system.

“In the Northeaast, the justice system is for the most part near collapse; in many other parts, there is a steep decline to near anarchy. In Zamfara State, for instance, the killings and absence of law and order has become worrisome.

“In many states across the North Central, Benue, Taraba, Plateau Kogi, the strife and killings have put huge stress on the justice sector.

“In other states in many parts of the country, including Southeast and the Delta region, kidnappings, robberies and various forms of criminality are becoming more and more common occurrence.

“All these underscore the continuing urgency for reforms for a more effective administration of criminal justice. We should be prepared for even more radical reforms to address these challenges,” Mahmoud said.

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