CJN orders judges to ensure speedy trial of criminal cases, release of aged, terminally ill prisoners

Justice Tanko Muhammad, the Chief Justice of Nigeria

Justice Tanko Muhammad, the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), has ordered Chief Judges in the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), to ensure speedy trial of criminal cases and prison decongestion.

The CJN urged the judges to consider the release of suspects awaiting trial for at least 6 years, the discharge of awaiting trial persons who had no confirmed criminal cases against them, the aged, and terminally ill inmates.

Muhammad gave the directive to Chief Judges in a memo (NJC/CIR/HOC/II/662) dated May 15, 2020.

According to him the directive was in line with the call by the United Nations for countries to reduce the population of prison inmates since physical distancing and self-isolation in such conditions at this time of COVID-19 pandemic are practically impossible.

CJN Muhammad noted that of the 74,127 persons held in prisons across the nation, 52,226 of them were still awaiting trial.

“From available records, the inmates population at various custodial centres across the country presently stands at about 74,127 out of which 52,226 are Awaiting Trial Persons.

“Most of these custodial centres are presently housing inmates beyond their capacities and the overcrowded facilities pose a potent threat to the health of the inmates and the public in general in view of the present circumstances, hence the need for urgent steps to bring the situation under control.”

The CJN directed the Chief Judges “to embark on immediate visit to all custodial/correctional centres within your respective states to identify and release deserving inmates, where that has not been done already.”

“During the requested visit, the Chief Judges are enjoined to consider conditional or unconditional release of Awaiting Trial Persons who have spent six years or more in custody.

“ATPs who have no confirmed criminal cases against them, aged inmates and terminally ill may be discharged.

“It is expected that particular attention should be on the aged, those with health issues, low risk offenders, those with no sufficient legal basis to remain in custody, inmates convicted for minor offences with or without option of fines and inmates who have less than three years term left to serve having served a substantial term of their service for offences that attract 5 years and above.

“Payment of fines may be made in favour of inmates convicted of lesser offences with option of fine, who are in custody because of their inability to pay such fines. The list of deserving inmates as provided by the Correctional Service Formations across the Country with above criteria is hereby attached for your guidance.”

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