Posted in Prose

Needed – fast but fair prosecution of persons with corruption charges.

By Noel A. Ihebuzor Crimes 1_Tough on crime crimes 4   Most Nigerians are unhappy with both the pace of criminal prosecution and rate of conviction of persons  with corruption charges in Nigeria.  They are also unhappy with the punishments that have meted out by the courts in the few cases of completed prosections  with convictions. The impression gaining ground is that all three of arms of government are not walking their talk of being tough with corruption. Yet corruption has been rightly identified by all and sundry as being one of the key retardants of our development as nation. I am sharing my reflections on this sad state of things in what follows below. I end with a few suggestions on the problems identified could be solved. The aim is to encourage reflection which lead to badly needed positive changes in this area.   Crimes 3

  1. Our criminal justice system is annoyingly slow. Even snails crawl faster than it.
  2. The rate of criminal convictions especially for corruption cases is notoriously low.
  3. Examples are there all around us for all to see.
  4. Since the oil subsidy scam scandal broke out, only very few persons have been successfully prosecuted.
  5. There are persons on trial for well over one year for money laundering who are still walking free and making noises.
  6. There are persons with accusations of abuse of office and corruption  (land grabbing and conflict of interest, for example) in the disposal of public assets who are still walking free
  7. Only very few persons implicated in the pensions funds scam have been convicted.
  8. Some of the reported convictions have left the public with a sour taste in the mouth because the severity of punishment has not matched the enormity of the crime committed.
  9. The public now feels that there is some disconnect between crimes committed and the puny sentences that have been handed out to convicted persons.
  10. This disconnect between crime and punishment is fuelling a genuine sense of moral outrage
  11. Our justice system should reflect our morals
  12. Morality should be the basis of laws, but alas most times it takes back seat and allows arid technicalities to hijack the driver’s seat and to drive the process.
  13. The application of such arid technicalities and the exploitation of loopholes have meant that in a number of cases, offenders have gotten away free.
  14. When arid technicalities dominate, legal procedures become more like sterile debates and logic and less about morals.
  15. Judicial systems must achieve the blend of blend morality and legality. This is one way to ensure that the public’s expectation that the guilty should be punished and swiftly too is met..
  16. The public is right in expecting punishment. Punishment is not an end in itself but a means to an end.
  17. The purpose of punishment is to correct, reform and deter offenders and thus protect society.
  18. Punishment purifies the offender
  19. Punishment also provides some consolation to victims or their relations and thus enables some closure.
  20. All the foregoing notwithstanding, judicial processes still remain painfully slow and inefficient.
  21. There are several reasons for this – incompetent prosecutors, poor evidence, corrupt justice system
  22. Other reasons include exploitation of technical loopholes by the defence lawyers, time wasting gimmicks, inadequately staffed judiciary and collusion between defence and prosecution teams.
  23. Remember that guilty defendants have an interest in delay and use a number of processes to achieve this.
  24. One popular delay tactic is the repeated requests for adjournment.
  25. Another delay tactic is dilatory or diversionary moves
  26. All the above is sad and the result is that criminal and corrupt persons roam free and wide.
  27. All of this is sad and puts a big question mark on the seriousness of our anti-corruption campaigns.
  28. Is there a danger in snail pace trials and poor conviction rates?  Yes, there are several
  29. Is there a compelling case for speeding up trials and improving conviction rates? Yes, there are several
  30. In our specific context, the society demands such speedy and fair and are right in demanding such.
  31. Though the public is aware of the doctrine of separation of powers, it will blame the executive for the failure and lapses of the judiciary.
  32. The over-riding public interest in these matters of prosecution of corrupt officials is in speedy but fair trials leading to an early closure.
  33. In the prosecution of corrupt public servants, delay is dangerous, and for several reasons
  34. With delays, the passage of time softens feelings and affects memory and recall
  35. Time wasted has a potential to erode vital evidence
  36. In many ways, justice delayed is justice denied.
  37. Closeness between crime date and conviction is a strong deterrent to future offenders
  38. Speedy trials convey seriousness and drum the fear of the law into the hearts of criminals and corrupt officials.
  39. Speedy trials are fair to all as they lessen the period of any pre-conviction incarceration
  40. Conviction rate is a good measure of the effectiveness of the criminal justice system
  41. Speedy trials lessen worry, anxiety and costs caused by the judicial system.
  42. Speedy trials lessen disruptions to personal life.
  43. Delays in trials could lead to non-availability of witnesses
  44. Delays in trials could lead to disappearance of evidence
  45. Delay in trial could lead to key witnesses being threatened.
  46. Delay could lead to witnesses retracting their evidence.
  47. Delays in trials lead to unrepentant offenders becoming cocky.
  48. Delays in trials could lead to politicization of trials especially when the accused persons during the wait period sign up to an opposition political party!
  49. Speedy and fair trials are sound indicators of a sound judicial system
  50. High conviction rates of the guilty indicate thoroughness, dedication, effective and methodical investigation and prosecution.
  51. High conviction rates of the guilty are indications of a judiciary worthy of its name
  52. Are there solutions? Yes, I believe so and here are a few from the perspective on a layperson:
  53. Set up special courts – this has been done in India with positive impacts
  54. Increase the number of courts – this has been done in the UK and in India
  55. Set and enforce time frames and time limits for completion of prosecution from charge to verdict. This has been done in India and the UK.
  56. Only in exceptional cases requiring complex investigations should any elongation be allowed
  57. Establish minimum conditions and requirements for acceptable prosecutions. Share these with public prosecutors. Severely punish public prosecutors who fail to meet these conditions and requirement.
  58. Establish the essential evidence needed for conviction ensuring however that the principles of justice and fairness are not sacrificed at the altar of speed.
  59. Judges must stand up against time wasting gimmicks and imprison defence lawyers who try to do this.
  60. Last words?
  61. Our sanity as a nation and perceptions of us in the international arena are at stake because of our failures so far to deal in a fast, fair, credible and robust manner with criminal prosecutions.
  62. It is time, we reversed this sad trend, and if these lay rambles by a non-learned citizen can provoke a movement in redeeming our image and in restoring honour and credibility to our judicial system, then I would not have written these in vain.

Noel @naitwt   crimes 5 crimes 8


Development and policy analyst with a strong interest in the arts and inclusive social change. Dabbles occasionally into poetry and literary criticism!

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