The Attorney-General of the Federation ( AGF) and Minister of Justice, Lateef Fagbemi (SAN), has called for the implementation of non-custodial measures and sentencing guidelines under the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015 to reduce the country’s growing number of awaiting trial inmates.
Fagbemi made the call at a two-day workshop on the Implementation of Non-custodial Measure and Sentencing Guidelines under the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015 on Monday in Abuja.
The AGF was represented by Mrs Leticia Ayoola-Daniels, Director of Administration of Criminal Justice and Reforms Department/Correctional Unit of the Federal Ministry of Justice.
He also encouraged trial judges to stop remanding minor offenders with dangerous criminals, which he said led to them being introduced into a life of crime rather than being reformed.
The AGF noted that the goal of non-custodial measures is to discover viable alternatives to incarceration for offenders.
The aim of the workshop is to share knowledge on the effective use of these instruments that will lead to a decrease in arbitrary punishments, uniformity in punishments and utilization of alternatives to imprisonment to decrease the population of awaiting trial inmates.
“In discharging that function, the sentencing judge must strive to achieve the right balance between imposing a merited sentence in the case at hand, while maintaining a broad level of consistency with other cases so that sentencing at a systematic level is fair.
“The Administration of Criminal Justice Act was enacted and came into force on May 13, 2015, the Act placed premium on non-custodial sentences.
“In line with ACJA 2015, the Federal Government has set out guidelines to stipulate the requirements and procedure for imposing non-custodial sentencing for the purpose of preventing abuse and ensuring reasonable uniformity and fairness in the imposition of sentences”, the AGF said; adding that the order to facilitate application and effective use of the non-custodial sentencing, the legal and regulatory framework must be effectively implemented.
According to him, “The purpose of non-custodial measures is to find effective alternatives to imprisonment for offenders and this is in accordance with the current global shift in punishing convicts with alternatives to prison terms.
“The aim of the trend is to give the judges and magistrates much latitude and discretion to award befitting and purposeful punishment to convicts aside the punishment suggested by the statute creating the offence.
“Since the coming into effect of the Practice Direction in 2020, the sentencing landscape has continued to develop rapidly and extensively.”
Fagbemi said the use of non custodial measure has facilitated reduction in correctional facility to the barest minimum in line with section 470(2)(c) of the Administration of Criminal Justice.
“The guidelines provide appropriate standards and measures for the sentencing process in offence against the state, person, public order for the purpose of uniformity and fairness in sentencing which will further strengthen the criminal procedure system.
“The success of any system of criminal justice administration depends on the level of effective implementation of the guidelines by the agencies involved”, the minister stated.
Fagbemi noted that the courts have handed down many more sentencing frameworks to guide the exercise of sentencing discretion in a broadly consistent way.
“It is my belief that this workshop would provide a timely opportunity for us to reflect on recent developments, so that we can look to what might lie ahead of us in the context of sentencing in our courts.
“We have seen countless cases where defendants are arrested for minor offences and locked up in prisons adding to the population of awaiting trial inmates.
“These offenders remanded with hardened criminals end up being initiated into a life of crime instead of been reformed.
“The Federal Ministry of Justice as the leading stakeholder in the justice administration in Nigeria will continue to develop appropriate frameworks and measures to overcome the unique challenges in the criminal justice sector and strengthen the application of law to align with International best practices”, he said.