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Lawyers confirm prison congestion is due to stringent bail condition

Prison congestion in the country has been confirmed by some Nigerian lawyers, as being caused by the inability of defendants to perfect stringent bail conditions.

The lawyers told journalists on Tuesday in Lagos that decongestion of the prisons must begin from the courts, and underscored the need for judges and magistrates to review the circumstances of each case in arriving at a bail decision.

The lawyers, according to the Vanguard, also harped on the need for due diligence in the prosecution process, especially by the police whom they claimed contributed in creating some of the congestions in the prisons. A constitutional lawyer, Mr Paul Umeozuruigbo, of Divine Solicitors, said that if bail conditions were made flexible by judges, accused persons and awaiting trial inmates, could be out of prison custody in good time.

“How can a defendant who is charged with committing a misdemeanour or a simple offence, be given a bail condition to provide a civil or public servant of grade level 15 and above. “Sometimes, these defendants are asked to provide sureties with three years tax clearance, who are also landed property owners in highbrow areas of Lagos.

“This is what we are talking about; how can a person who allegedly stole electric bulbs worth N10,000 be granted bail in the sum of N100,000 and with two sureties in like sum. “So, you see, where these defendants are unable to perfect the bail terms, the consequence is that they linger in custody until they are able to fulfil all prescribed conditions,” he said

According to the reports, he said in other developed climes, the database of citizens are tracked and so, courts do not have to go through the rigours of spelling out tough bail conditions to secure the attendance of such accused persons in court. He, therefore, urged judges and magistrates to adopt a more flexible approach in bail administration, so as to help reduce prison congestion and fast track justice delivery.

On his part, the reports said, a Lagos rights advocate, Chief Malcolm Onirhobo, blames the congestion of prisons on the manner of prosecution by some prosecutors in law enforcement agencies. According to him, some prosecutors arraign defendants in court and then exhibit laxity in prosecuting and timeously concluding their cases.

He said that where such defendants have not been granted bail by the court, the non-diligent by the prosecution could act as a drawback to justice and keep them longer in custody than required. “Some prosecutors who are not lawyers show lack of diligence in handling criminal cases and this further causes delays, especially where the defendant has not been released on bail by the court. “So, I think to redress this aspect of prosecution, the prosecutors should be drilled through frequent training to sharpen their knowledge and broaden their skill in prosecution,” he said

According to the reports, Omirhibo has also urged judges and magistrates to discourage deliberate ploys by prosecutors which are aimed at stalling criminal cases before them, while defendants linger in custody.

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