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LAW CLINICS AND PRETRIAL DETAINEES

 

         

 

Law Clinic is a law office in a university managed by law students in the discharge of pro bono or voluntary services, and pretrial detainee is a person detained in the prison by the state for an offence committed against the laws of the state prior to or pending trial.

 

The problems being experienced by pretrial detainees is as a result of the facts that their rights are being denied or infringed. A right is a person's legal or social entitlement. The rights of pretrial detainees are recognized under the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and they include, the right to remain silent; the right to remain silent the right to counsel; the right to bail; the right to be detained under humane conditions and the right to prompt trial.
The denial of these rights is contributed from inadequate police investigations; delay of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) advice, holding charges and unnecessary adjournments of cases. Many of the pretrial detainees primarily ;lack adequate knowledge of their rights, for example, some who do not have counsel, never think they have a right to counsel, and therefore are resigned to a state of helplessness.

 

It was the need to bridge this gap that led to a project for development of pretrial detainee Clinics in 2012 with 6 pilot clinics by Network of University Legal Aid Institutions (NULAI) Nigeria with the support of Open Society Foundations. In conjunction with Justice for All, and the Department for International Development (DFID) in 2014, the Pretrial detainee Clinic project escalated to 12 law clinics under the project tagged “Improving Access to Justice for Pretrial Detainees in Nigeria”. During this project, law clinics in Nigeria proved to be of great help in the speeding up access to justice for pretrial detainees. They achieved this by going to the prisons to interview and counsel pretrial detainees, facilitating the application and perfection of their bail, advocacy visits to the Chief Judge and Director of Public Prosecutions, jail delivery exercise with Chief Judges, and even re-establishing contact between prisoners and their lost or estranged family members. This project, aside from the fact that it facilitated access to justice to pretrial detainees, and facilitated access to justice to pretrial detainees, also helped law students to be better lawyers. Many of them are now more inclined to render pro bono services to the underserved and poor members of the society.

 

In 2014 Law Clinics were able to facilitate access to justice for 1043 pretrial detainees from 19 prisons. Notably amongst others: 68 regained their freedom through bail, 126 ATPs cases were disposed of through acquittals, convictions and cases struck out for want of diligent prosecution and law clinics continue to represent in some cases which are still in court.

 

This was achieved through; Law Clinic Supervisors representing 371 detainees on pro-bono basis, 183 detainees cases referred to Legal Aid Council and Pro-bono Lawyers which is exclusive to that handled by Law Clinics Supervisors on pro-bono basis, 386 detainees relatives were contacted on behalf of the detainees, 33 detainees were advocated for under prerogative of mercy with State Chief Judges, advocacy visits resulted in interventions at the Ministries of Justice and the Department of Public Prosecution.

 

Notable among the pretrial detainee cases handled by law clinics were: C. Ojo who suffered mentally disability was charged for Unlawful Assault resulting in Injury. She had no legal representation, was denied fair hearing, prompt trial, medical services and had been on pretrial detention for six months under inhumane conditions. Also she had lost contact with her family members. She was discovered during the prison visit by Akungba Law Clinic, Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba- Akoko, Ondo State. The law clinic promptly carried out an investigation into her background, and got her family information. Her family members were contacted and re-connected to her. She was provided with a counsel, thereafter released from detention, and then taken to Federal Medical Center, Owo in Ondo State for admission for the treatment of her mental disability.

 

On the 3rd of March 2014, the University of Abuja, Law Clinic successfully secured the release of 36 awaiting trial detainees, who had little or no hope of accessing justice and getting released from the confines of the Kuje Prison in Abuja, Nigeria. These prisoners charged for public nuisance had no legal representation, no prosecutor, faced with baseless accusations and no proper investigation. If not for the intervention of the Law Clinic, these detainees would have been forgotten in the Kuje Prison. They were arrested for sleeping in uncompleted buildings as a result of their homelessness. Their means of livelihood were menial jobs like hawking, shoe repairs and scavenging waste bins. Obviously, a water hawker who makes an average of N400 daily would scarcely afford a decent meal, let alone any form of shelter. Although they were granted bail for a sum each (not less than N5, 000) and were told to provide a surety who is a civil servant or who owns a landed property in Abuja. It beats one’s understanding how a person with no roof over his head, and no form of savings would manage to get a surety with a landed property in Abuja. This also shows that criminalization of poverty is an access to justice issue.

 

O. O. Christian arrested and detained on behalf of his cousin for stealing laptop and phone, was detained for 1 year and 9 months. He was arraigned on the 11th September 2012 at the Afikpo Magistrate Court which declined jurisdiction and remanded him in prison. He had been awaiting trial since then. But through the efforts of Ebonyi State University Law Clinic, he was released from detention.

 

M. Patrick, charged with Public Nuisance, though had already served his 24 days sentence, but was still in detention because he could not pay the fine of N4,000. He was released through the efforts of Nassarawa State University Law Clinic after the payment of the fine by the Law Clinic. On June 30th, 2014, Law Clinicians of the NassarawaState University, Nigeria secured the discharge of Yohana Y. from prison after 7 months in pprison for stealing 2 mudus (a 5 diameter bowl measurement) of Rice and a bottle of palm oil. This pretrial detainee had not been to court since 23rd December, 2013. The Law Clinic also did reunite him with his wife in Bauchi State who never knew where her husband was since the date of his arrest.

 

On the 25th June 2014, the Abia State University Law Clinic Team attended the Jail Delivery exercise of the Chief Judge of Abia State, Hon. Justice Oti at Afara-Umuahia Prisons. The Clinic presented its clients for consideration and nine (9) of the Clinic's clients were among those who benefited from the Jail Delivery exercise. The notable cases among them were: Mr. John B., aged 25yrs- remanded since 2006 was granted bail by the Chief Judge; Okafor N., 28years and Ihendu O., 48yrs both remanded since 2006 and 2007 respectively, were released because no Information had been filed against them by the Director of Public Prosecution.

 

The problem of delay in access to justice in Nigeria is one of the agonizing issues that have continued to confront the nation’s criminal justice system and those who come in contact with the law. The causes of this problem are: lack of access to legal representation, inefficient transportation for court sittings, and heavy judicial workload. It is evident from the prisons data (awaiting trial detainees constitute over 70% of the estimated 54,156 prisoners' population in the 235 prisons across the country) that serious reform is required for a better administration of justice, as the percentage of prisoners awaiting trial is high. Hence, there should be a continuation of the project (Improving Access to Justice for Pretrial Detainees in Nigeria) executed by NULAI, and also an urgent reform of the Judiciary which must prioritize provision of legal assistance for criminal suspects within 48 hours of arrest, so as to salvage the problems of pretrial detainees thereby reducing prolong period of pretrial detention and ultimately decongestion of Nigerian prisons.

 

   

 

Precept taken from;

NULAI 2014 Pretrial Final Report

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