Chief Justice of Nigeria criticises use of holding charges

Top judge condemns the practice of filing holding charges against accused persons and “trial by public parade of suspects on pages of newspapers and on the television” and blames the practice for congestion in prisons.

The Chief Justice of Nigeria, Dahiru Musdapher, had his speech read by Justice Nwali Sylvester Ngwuta of the Supreme Court at the opening ceremony of the fifth annual general conference of the section on legal practice of the Nigerian Bar Association, on 15 November 2011, Vanguard Media reports.

“Every legal practitioner is familiar with this term (holding charge) by which citizens are dumped in prison by a court which lacks jurisdiction to try them. It is largely responsible for the congestion in prisons across the country. The state cannot incarcerate its citizen while scrambling for evidence to build a case against him, and if it has a case it should take the accused to a court of competent jurisdiction.

“As often in the case when he is set free because he has no case he goes home in shame, a damaged man, without apology, without compensation. Trial by public of a suspect even when he is not an accused person on pages of newspapers and on television is equally bad. It is difficult to convince an average person that one who has been so paraded has not committed any offence."

“May I also draw your attention to our prisons where fellow human beings are reduced to the barest level of humanity. I think time is ripe to include a provision for suspended sentence in the criminal procedure code and the criminal procedure law, after all, as Roscoe Pound said in his Introduction to the Philosophy of Law (1922): “the law must be stable but it must not stand still.”

The Chief Justice also controversially "abolished" the plea bargain procedure employed by the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, in settling high profile cases of corruption out of court, saying the system “has no place in our law- substantive or procedural. It is an obstacle to our fight against corruption, it should never again be mentioned in our jurisprudence.”

He also bemoaned the fact that the judiciary had in the past assisted corrupt former political office holders in tying the hands of anti-corruption agencies by granting frivolous injunctions that immune them from prosecution.

Justice Musdapher was appointed Acting Chief Justice by President Goodluck Jonathan in August 2011.


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