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FG unveils Plea bargaining guidelines for quick recovery of stolen assets, crime proceed

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The Minister of Justice, Lateef Fagbemi, SAN, 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, 2023 and the maiden sensitization workshop on the Guidelines on Tuesday in Abuja.

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

“This include 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 Centers”.

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 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.

And, similar provisions in the Administration of Criminal Justice Laws of the various States of the Federation which now provide for plea bargaining.

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

He said the objective of these guidelines is to, inter alia, 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 unveiled will promote standardisation, enhance the effective implementation of the plea bargaining provisions in the ACJA and significantly contribute and stimulate 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 uncertainty of trials, facilitate the quick return of stolen assets and generally enhance the efficiency of the Criminal justice system”.

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 gudielines was 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.

The minister said It was his conviction that these guidelines will not only enhance public confidence in 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”.

Also speaking, the Chief Justice of the FCT High Court, Justice Husseini Baba-Yusuf described the new guidelines as the newest addition into the armoury of the Nigerian Criminal Justice System protocol and procedures.

Plea bargaining, he restated, has become one of the prominent features in the criminal justice system of many jurisdictions across the globe including Nigeria.

SourceNAN

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