It is the duty of every government to combat crime. The process and system of doing this is called the criminal justice system.
According to the Black’s Law Dictionary, Criminal Justice is the collective institutions which an accused offender passes until the accusations have been disposed of or the assessed punishment is concluded.
Generally, the criminal justice system is comprised of three organs; first is the law enforcement agencies which is primarily The Nigerian Police Force, second is the judiciary on one side and defence counsels on the other side, the last is the prisons.
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The overall objective of the criminal justice system in Nigeria is not only to punish crimes but also to prevent and control them. The history of criminal justice system in Nigeria can be traced to pre-colonial Nigeria.
Before the British influence in our laws and institutions, there were customary laws as there were customary institutions.
In several communities in the pre-colonial Nigeria, the laws differs, it should however be remembered the ultimate goal of the diverse laws and system is justice.
The precolonial criminal justice system is similar to what we have today; there is the king or a person in equal position and his councils as judges.
There are prisons but in most cultures, the prisons were usually used pending the determination of a case. There were really no centralized police system, there were however community police and king’s guards who carried out roles similar to the modern day police.
During the colonial rule, constabularies were formed in different regions of the country, when the proclamation for southern and northern protectorate was made in 1900; we had the Northern Nigeria Police and Southern Nigeria police.
It was in 1930 that the Nigeria Police Force was formed following the amalgamation of the Northern and Southern protectorates.
According to section 4 of the Police Act, the police shall be employed for the prevention of crime, the apprehension of offenders, the preservation of law and order, the protection of life and property and the due enforcement of all laws and regulations with which they are directly charged…section 6 of the 1999 Constitution vests the judicial powers of the federation in the courts, this includes power to determine the guilt or innocence of accused persons in the process of criminal litigation.
Prisons were first established in Nigeria in 1861, till date, the Nigeria Prisons Service is charged with the responsibility of taking into lawful custody, persons certified to be kept by courts of competent jurisdiction, producing suspects in courts. The prisons are also to oversee rehabilitation mechanisms activities.
The criminal justice system has grown in leaps and bounds over the years, although not without some attendant problems.
It appears that the ultimate goal of the criminal justice system is still being jeopardized on the altar of ineffectiveness of the organs of the system.
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One noticeable setback in the administration of criminal justice in Nigeria is delay, it is usually said that justice delayed is justice denied. Section 35(4) of the 1999 Constitution provides that any person who is arrested or detained for the purpose of bringing him before court shall be brought before a court of law within a reasonable time.
In a report by Premium Times on a lecture by a Court of appeal Judge, Mojeed Owoeye, delay may be caused by the transfer of police prosecutors, inability to produce witnesses, frequent adjournments, uncompleted investigation, inadequacy of courts and judicial personnel.
Another shortcoming of the criminal justice system is the violation and disregard of the rights of suspects and accused persons.
Section36 (5) of the 1999 constitution provides that every person who is charged with a criminal offence shall be presumed to be innocent until he is proven guilty.
It appears that our law enforcement agents treat accused persons as guilty until their innocence is proven. It has been reported that accused treated with inhumane hostility, they were usually beaten and forced to make confessional statements whereas Section 35(2) of the 1999 Constitution declares that 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 choice.
By the virtue of section 28 of the Evidence act, a confessional statement made by inducement, threat or promise may be inadmissible.
Another problem of the criminal justice system is poverty and ignorance. Many accused person are not aware of their rights under the law which paves way for easy violation. On the other hand some other cannot afford good legal representation and are not aware of the existence of the Legal Aid Council.
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The prisons system is not without its problems too, there is a problem of overcrowding as it has been severally reported that there is a huge number of people in prison custody awaiting trial, some of these people can be kept in custody for as long as ten years.
The overcrowding of prisons has been ascribed to poor and inadequate facilities of prisons, congestion of courts, and lack of speedy trial among other things.
Prisons are not expected to be only incarceration centres but also rehabilitation centres. Therefore the prisons system is also to ensure that inmates come out to become a better part of the society they have been separated from. The rehabilitation facilities have however not been sufficiently and adequately put in place.
In 2015, the Administration of Criminal Justice Act was passed in an attempt to combat some of the attendant problems of the Criminal Justice system in Nigeria.
The purpose of the Act is to ensure that the administration of criminal justice in Nigeria promotes efficient management of criminal justice institutions, speedy dispensation of justice, protection of the society from crime and protection of the rights and interests of the suspects, the defendant, and the victim. (Part 1-Preliminary, Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015).
Some laudable provisions of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act includes the abolition of arrest in lieu of another person, prohibition of arrest in civil matters, the video record of confessional statements by suspects, plea bargain, the record and reports of arrests, visit of Chief Magistrate to police station for visitation, easier bail processes and legal aid among others.
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The ultimate goal of the criminal justice system is to ensure that justice is done and the perpetrators for crime are punished accordingly, it is also important for the maintenance of peace and order in the country. It is therefore of necessity to a pay attention and commit resources to the smooth running of the system.
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