A judicial system that takes a lifetime to determine a person’s rights is more unjust than the crime or wrongful act itself. The administration of justice in Nigeria is slower than a snail and stagnant as still water, thereby causing severe hardship to litigants seeking justice. Our slow delayed justice system may not cause too much hardship in civil matters, as it will for criminal cases where accused persons are most times remanded in prison awaiting trial. Most inmates awaiting trial sometimes spend more years waiting under detention for the determination of their guilt than they would if found guilty and serving their jail term.
The delayed justice in Nigeria is a serious fundamental human rights issue as it infringes on a person’s freedom as a human being. This article will examine the delay in the administration of justice as an administrative violation of fundamental human rights.
1.1 Delayed Justice and Human Rights Violations
Justice stands as a paramount ethical and political concept, originating from the Latin term “jus,” signifying right or law. According to Plato, the Word Justice is derived from the Greek word ‘Dikaisyne’ Which is closely Aligned with the concepts of mortality or righteousness.
For John Locke Justice is derived from Natural law.
There are two types of Justice, this are Justice with legal elements and one without legal elements. According to Mariam Wester’s Dictionary Non-Legal Justice is one which is not decided by legal principles or by the court. It is Justice not founded upon legal concepts and principles but purely on other extra-legal factors like morality, religion, culture, and tradition. Non-Legal Justice in Nigerian Society can be evidenced in decisions of local chiefs, and non-Legal mediators.
Legal Justice is decided by the use of legal principles in the determination of the rights, privileges, and responsibilities of litigants. This is Justice according to the rule of law, not the will and wish of individual Conscience. For this study, our focus would be on Delayed Legal Justice. From the foregoing, we can conveniently define legal Justice as the apportionment of Rights, liberties, and privileges to deserving individuals based on Equality, and good conscience through the application of legal concepts and principles.
The Administration of legal Justice is usually by the instrumentality of the court system which stands as the custodian of Justice. Lord Hewart in R v Sussex Justices ex parte McCarthy ([1924) 1 KB 256,  All ER Rep 233 The Court in this case has held that justice Should not only be done but manifestly Seen to be done. According to Lord Augie, J.C.A. in Obajimi v. Adediji (2008) 3 NWLR Legally, ‘justice’ entails equitable treatment. In any legal matter, it requires careful consideration and balance of the conflicting rights of the involved parties, ensuring not only the actual delivery of justice but also its perceptible manifestation. In NNPC v. ZARIA & ANOR (2014) LPELR-CA/K/102/201
“The term “justice” means proper administration of laws; the constant and perpetual disposition of legal matters or disputes to render every man is due.”
In AKPADIAHA v. UKO (2017) LPELR-CA/C/98/2014 it has been held that Justice is not a one-way Traffic as it is Justice for both the defendant and the plaintiff. Similarly, it has been held in
OKOMU OIL PALM LTD. V. OKPAME (2006) LPELR-CA/B/4/2001. The Court in Doing Justice must always place the complaints of both parties on an Equal scale for the unbiased determination of their rights and attainment of Justice.
The administration of justice hinges on whether a case falls under civil or criminal jurisdiction. Individuals initiate civil cases to seek resolution for infringements upon their rights, such as breaches of contracts or trust. Conversely, a case becomes criminal when the state brings charges against individuals for violating legal provisions. These violations typically incur penalties, including imprisonment, death sentences, fines, or a combination thereof, contingent on the severity of the offense.
Delayed Justice is the unusual delay of the court in the determination of a case presented before it.
Because the onus of proof in all civil matters is on the balance of probability, civil cases are usually speedy. Section 140 of the Evidence Act 2011 provides that in the determination of a civil right it shall be on the balance of probability. This means the extent of proof required is not as serious as criminal charges. Therefore the court does not usually experience delay in determining a civil wrong.
The reverse is the case in Criminal matters as Delayed justice is usually caused by court processes and the fulfillment requirements of Section 135 of the Evidence Act that provide that proof or determination of guilt in a criminal case shall be beyond reasonable doubt. According to William Blackstone, it is better that ten guilty persons are set free than for one innocent person to suffer.
This has been cited with approval in the Nigerian case of. LIMAN v. STATE (2016) LPELR-CA/K/266/C/2009. This is the Foundation of the criminal justice system in Nigeria. As the court held in the case of AYENI v. PEOPLE OF LAGOS STATE (2016) LPELR-CA/L/102C/2015
“The law is now firmly settled by a plethora of authorities that it is better for ten guilty persons to escape than for one innocent person to suffer. More pungently, it is better to acquit ten guilty men than to convict an innocent man”
SAIDU vs. THE STATE (1982) 4 SC 41 at 69-70, Obaseki, JSC stated: “It does not give the Court any joy to see offenders escape the penalty they richly deserve but until they are proved guilty under the appropriate law in our law Courts, they are entitled to walk about in the streets and tread the Nigerian soil and breathe the Nigerian air as free and innocent men and women”
This is in fulfillment of the Constitutional provision of Section 36(5) of the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) which provides as follows: “Every person who is charged with a criminal offense shall be presumed to be innocent until he is proved guilty.”
During the pendency and determination of the Guilt of the accused persons, accused persons are usually detained pending the determination of the charges against them, taking away their right to Liberty, Freedom of Movement, and inhuman or degrading treatment.
Long detention and Delayed Justice lead to administrative violation of Fundamental human rights of the accused persons. The recent case of Nnamdi Kanu, who is facing charges of terrorism and treason, has been in detention for over 3 years awaiting trial. The Case of Mojekwu v Mojekwu took many years before the court could determine the right of the applicant to own land after the death of the original parties. In that case, the Learned Justice speaking on delayed justice held that there is something radically wrong with a judicial system that takes ten years to determine the ownership of land
This delayed Justice causes severe hardship to accused persons, who sometimes stay in detention awaiting trial longer than there would have been if their guilts were already determined by the courts. According to a report by the Nigeria Correctional Center. Out of 78,675 Inmates across 240 correctional Facilities in Nigeria, 55,062 are still awaiting Trial. This constitutes more than 70% of persons in Nigerian correctional Centers. Imagine a system where more than 70 percent of the accused persons under detention are awaiting trial. According to a report by Premium Times some of these inmates stay on the awaiting trial list for more than twelve years.
Rights of A Detained Accused Person
During detention resulting from delayed justice, for accused persons awaiting trial by the court, the following Rights of the Accused persons may have been breached:
1. Right to Individual Liberty: Section 35(1) of the 1999 Constitution Every person shall be entitled to his liberty and no person shall be deprived of such liberty save in the following cases and by a procedure permitted by law.
(c) to bring him before a court in execution of the order of a court or upon reasonable suspicion of his having committed a criminal offense, or to such extent as may be reasonably necessary to prevent his committing a criminal offense;
Any person who is arrested or detained shall have the right to remain silent or avoid answering any question until after consultation with a legal practitioner or any other person of his own choice.
(4) The provision outlined in this paragraph establishes a crucial safeguard for individuals who have been arrested or detained under subsection (1) (c) of the relevant section. It asserts that anyone subjected to such arrest or detention must be promptly presented before a court of law within a reasonable timeframe. Moreover, the paragraph delineates specific timeframes for the trial process: two months from the date of arrest for individuals in custody or without bail entitlement, and three months for those released on bail. Should the trial not commence within these stipulated periods, the detained person must be released either unconditionally or under reasonable conditions designed to ensure their appearance for a subsequent trial. This provision emphasizes the significance of timely legal proceedings and protects individuals from prolonged, unjustified detentions without due process.
6) provide that Any person who is unlawfully arrested or detained shall be entitled to compensation and public apology from the appropriate authority or person; and in this subsection, “the appropriate authority or person” means an authority or person specified by law.
The right to Individual Liberty During detention and Delayed Justice is always breached. Article 9 UDHR No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention, or exile.
Article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) emphasizes the fundamental right to liberty and security of individuals. It outlines the following key principles:
1. Every person has the right to liberty and security, and no one should face arbitrary arrest or detention. Deprivation of liberty should only occur based on established legal grounds and procedures. 2. Individuals who are arrested must be informed promptly, at the time of arrest, about the reasons for their arrest. Additionally, they should be promptly informed of any charges against them.
3. Those arrested or detained on criminal charges have the right to be promptly brought before a judge or another authorized judicial officer. They are entitled to a trial within a reasonable time or release. While awaiting trial, it should not be the general rule to detain individuals in custody, and release may be subject to certain guarantees.
4. Individuals deprived of liberty have the right to take legal proceedings before a court to challenge the lawfulness of their detention. The court should decide without delay on the legality of the detention and order the release of the individual if the detention is found to be unlawful. 5. Any person who has been unlawfully arrested or detained has the right to enforce compensation.
Similarly, Article 6 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights emphasizes the right to liberty and protection for everyone. The statement suggests that local, international, and regional legal instruments are aligned in safeguarding individual liberty, even for those accused of criminal offenses.
If a person who has been detained for a reasonable time awaiting trial, and during the court proceedings, the evidence presented is not compelling enough to secure a conviction, that person should be discharged and acquitted. This aligns with the principle of justice, ensuring that individuals are not unjustly deprived of their liberty when the evidence against them is insufficient to warrant conviction.
2. Right To Movement.
During detention, an individual’s right to move freely is automatically restricted to a confined area. This restriction can occur in various settings, not limited to a house or building, but also within one’s own compound or city, even in a large urban environment. Section 41. (1) of the Nigerian Constitution explicitly affirms every citizen’s entitlement to move freely throughout the country and reside in any part thereof. No citizen shall be expelled from Nigeria, refused entry, or denied exit. However, when an individual is detained awaiting trial, and justice is delayed, their fundamental right to freedom of movement is violated.
3. Freedom from inhuman and Degrading treatment.
The right to freedom from inhuman and degrading treatment is safeguarded by Section 34 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, which explicitly states that no one shall be subjected to any form of inhuman and degrading treatment. A parallel provision is articulated in Article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Additionally, Article 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) similarly upholds the freedom from torture, inhuman, and degrading treatment.
Regrettably, our detention and rehabilitation centers, due to their deplorable state, often subject inmates to inhuman and degrading treatment. These individuals are sometimes compelled to sleep on the floor and endure close proximity to their own waste. This dire situation starkly contradicts the principles enshrined in the aforementioned legal provisions and underscores the urgent need for improvement in the conditions of these facilities.
Other rights that may have been breached include the right to own property. Inmates during this period of detention are denied the right to own a phone or device. In some circumstances, they are even denied access to their own clothes. The rationale for this has usually been to guarantee the safety of the inmate and to prevent escape plans and attacks.
Finally, during this period of detention, the right to privacy of inmates is completely taken away. Prisons in Nigeria are so congested that inmates usually find difficulty in securing a sleeping space. This overcrowded condition not only infringes upon their right to privacy but also exacerbates the challenges and hardships faced by individuals in detention.
1.2 Factors Contributing to Delayed Justice
1. Due to the limited resources available to security agencies, the rate of investigation is usually slow. Inmates currently awaiting trial often have to spend a longer time at the mercy of the officer in charge of the investigation.
When judges accept bribes, the hands and will of justice are bent. In a recent report, five sacked judges also faced corruption allegations. Judges whose hands have been stained with bribes tend to focus more on the technicalities of the case, leading to possible dismissals on such grounds or unusual adjournments of cases until the death of the affected parties or their retirement from service.
3. Delay tactics by legal practitioners.
Legal practitioners often delay their clients’ cases through late filing and unnecessary adjournments, sometimes seeking additional funds as appearance fees. This is a major challenge that needs to be addressed in the administration of justice, as seen in the case of UZOIGWE v. STATE (2018) LPELR-CA/E/17C/2017.
4. Overburdened court system
The Nigerian court system is overwhelmed by too many cases and too few judges to handle them. Recently, the number of Supreme Court judges was reduced to ten. It is due to this overburdened court system that cases continue to pile up, and innocent people remain in detention for many years before their guilt can be determined. Addressing this issue is crucial for ensuring a more efficient and fair administration of justice.
The Administration of Justice in Nigeria operates at a sluggish pace, consistently resulting in the infringement of fundamental human rights for inmates. Many individuals spend numerous years awaiting trial, only to be either discharged without compensation or convicted for a lesser offense than the duration they’ve already spent awaiting justice. This delayed justice stands as a critical issue within Nigeria’s judicial system.
To address this concern, we advocate for the increased appointment of judges to alleviate the overburdened court system. The provision of standard infrastructure is essential to empower judicial officers to execute their duties efficiently. Access to law reports is crucial for expediting trials, and proper training, equipment, and facilities for security agencies are necessary for swift investigations and results.
Legislation establishing specific time frames for the determination of offenses is imperative to avoid unnecessary delays in detention. Additionally, offering free legal services for inmates who have not yet faced the judge but have languished in detention for an extended period is vital.
At Voice of the People News, we anticipate that implementing these recommendations will lead to expedited trials and the prevention of breaches of fundamental human rights.
- Pound, R., 1913. Justice according to law. Colum. L. Rev., 13, p.696.
- “Commentaries on the laws of England”. J.B. Lippincott Co., Philadelphia, 1893
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