3 YEARS OF CRIMINAL JUSTICE FAST TRACK CLINIC: THE JOURNEY SO FAR
Without mincing words, the high rate of awaiting trial inmates in the prison formations across the country has become worrisome and needs urgent attention if the right to freedom of Movement and fair trial granted to all by the constitution are anything to go by.
According to a survey conducted by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) and released in February, 2017, 72.53% of inmates in Nigeria Prison Formations were awaiting trial cases and according to the report, the problem of prison congestion in Nigeria is largely fueled by this high number of awaiting trial cases.
This situation as earlier observed has become a menace which is giving the Judiciary both at the Federal and State levels sleepless night as this seems to be jeopardizing the immense work that Magistrates and Judges in the country are doing in other to ensure Justice for all without delay as it is widely believed that “Justice delayed is justice denied”.
One of the problems causing this unwanted delay in the prosecution of Criminal Cases as unanimously agreed by the Stakeholders in the Administration of criminal justice in Ogun State in particular, is delay or non duplication of criminal case files by Investigating Police Officers (IPOs) who always complain of unavailability of funds, an act which many believe is largely responsible for the delay in rendering Legal Advice by the Directorate of Public Prosecution (DPP).
To tackle this ugly development, the Ogun State Judiciary under the leadership of Hon. Justice Olatokunbo Olopade with the support of success driven Governor of the State, Sen. Ibikunle Amosun during the 2014/15 Legal Year took a very bold step towards resolving this debacle by establishing Criminal Justice Fast Track Clinic in the three Senatorial Districts of the State.
The clinics, which were established with the sole aim of assisting IPOs in duplicating case files free of charge, are equipped with Industrial photocopy machines, adequate stationery and power generating machines to ensure constant power supply.
This initiative of the Hon. Justice Olatokunbo Olopade led Administration which has been described as a step in the right direction has started to yield good fruits as cases awaiting Legal Advice as far back as 5, 4, 3, even 2 years which in the past dominated awaiting trial lists in all Prison Formations across the state have suddenly disappeared as the accused persons involved in such cases are either in Courts standing trial, convicted or discharged.
This holistic measure has also helped to decongest Prisons in the State as accused persons whose case files cannot be found for one reason or the other on the part of IPOs were set free during the April and November, 2017 Jail Delivery Exercises. With the establishment of these Clinics, IPOs can no longer hide under the excuse of ‘no fund to duplicate case files’ which they have been using in the past to cover up such occurrence.
So far, no fewer than Eight Hundred Criminal Case files have been duplicated and it would have been more than that but for the uncooperative attitude of some of the IPOs who refused to make use of these Clinics as expected, an attitude many considered as a threat to the overall success of this initiative.
Therefore, it was not surprising when the Chief Judge directed all Magistrates in the State during the April, 2017 Jail Delivery Exercise that with effect from 2nd of May, 2017, not to entertain any matter on Preliminary Investigation brought to their Courts if the IPO has not duplicated the case files.
With full compliance with this directive, and the cooperation of IPOs, an end may soon come to the issue of prison congestion in the State as research has shown that 72.53% of the prison populations are awaiting trial inmates.
Based on this expectation and with the rate at which the number of inmates awaiting trial in the prison formations across the State is now reduced to the barest minimal, one can confidently say that the story of the Criminal Justice Fast Track Clinics in the State could be better if the Clinics are adequately utilized to duplicate case files by the IPOs for onward transfer to the DPP for Legal Advice.