Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Plea bargaining good for Nigeria’s anti-corruption war, AGF Fagbemi says

The Minister of Justice, Lateef Fagbemi, says plea bargain enhances the quick recovery of stolen assets and proceeds of crime.

• December 19, 2023
LATEEF FAGBEMI[Credit: Daily Post Nigeria]

The Minister of Justice, Lateef Fagbemi, says plea bargain enhances the quick recovery of stolen assets and proceeds of crime.

Mr Fagbemi said this at the unveiling of the ‘Plea Bargaining Guidelines for Federal Prosecutors’ and the maiden sensitisation workshop on the guidelines on Tuesday in Abuja.

The attorney general states, “Under section 494(1) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA), 2015, Plea Bargain is well described as “the process in criminal proceedings whereby the defendant and the prosecution work out a mutually acceptable disposition of the case.

“This includes the plea of the defendant to a lesser offence than that charged in the complaint or information and in conformity with other conditions imposed by the prosecution, in return for a lighter sentence than that of the higher charge subject to the court’s approval. It is also one of the mechanisms that can facilitate cost-effective, timely and sustainable decongestion of custodial centres.”

He, however, noted that the practice of plea bargaining in serious and complex cases, especially when the defendant is a politically exposed person or high net individual, is often misunderstood as a means of giving a soft landing to individuals who have looted the resources of the State and commonwealth of the nation.

“This negative perception was more common prior to 2015, when there was no specific statutory provision regulating the practice of plea bargaining. Today, this perception has not significantly changed, notwithstanding the provisions of section 270 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015,” Mr Fagbemi explained.

He added, “And similar provisions in the Administration of Criminal Justice Laws of the various states of the federation now provide for plea bargaining.

“This has necessitated the need for standard guidelines for the implementation of plea bargaining provisions contained in our laws.”

According to the justice minister, the objective of these guidelines is to, among other things, guide the prosecution and the defence in reaching a plea bargain agreement that is in the interest of justice, the public interest, public policy and the need to prevent abuse of legal process.

He added that the guidelines would promote standardisation, enhance the effective implementation of the plea bargaining provisions in the ACJA and significantly contribute to and stimulate the overall efficiency of the criminal justice system in Nigeria.

“The effective deployment of plea bargain provisions will therefore reduce the financial cost of prosecutions, hasten trial processes, eliminate the uncertainty of trials, facilitate the quick return of stolen assets and generally enhance the efficiency of the criminal justice system,” stated the minister.

He noted that considering these advantages, he counted it a great privilege to encourage states to adapt or adopt the provisions of these guidelines, especially when dealing with plea negotiation of federal offences.

The minister said the guidelines were a product of a cumulative effort of all the prosecuting agencies and other stakeholders.

“I must therefore commend the efforts of every stakeholder institution, particularly all the prosecuting agencies involved in the production of these guidelines, for your dedication and commitment to the reforms in the criminal justice sector, especially towards the development of these guidelines,” Mr Fagbemi noted.

The minister noted that the guidelines would not only enhance public confidence in the plea bargaining process in Nigeria but will reduce case backlog and congestion of correctional centres.

“It will ensure that the principles of accountability, equity, integrity and transparency are observed in the exercise of prosecutorial discretion on plea bargain, in line with international best practices,” said the justice minister.


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