Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Judge, ICPC oppose plea bargain in corruption, kidnap cases

A judge of the Abuja High Court, Justice Ishaq Bello, and Chairman of the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission, Ekpo Nta, on Tuesday kicked against the use of plea bargain in settling cases involving major crimes like corruption, kidnapping, murder and rape. They spoke at a workshop for stakeholders in the country’s justice administration system, with the theme, ‘The Practice and Perspectives of Plea Bargaining in Nigeria,’ where a Draft Bill on plea bargain prepared by the Nigerian Law Reform Commission was considered.
Justice Bello warned that the application of plea bargain in criminal matters would further worsen the already high rate of crime in the country.
He said, “Cases like corruption, rape, fraud and stealing of public funds should never be part of the concept of plea bargaining, I don’t also agree that there is the need for sentence bargaining.
“I believe that plea bargain should only come when it is difficult for the prosecution to prove a case of corruption as a means of recovering some of the looted funds.”
Other stakeholders at the event, including the ICPC and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, also spoke on the concept of plea bargain.
Although most of the stakeholders agreed that plea bargain could reduce the time and resources spent on prosecution, they also stressed that the concept should not apply to certain offences.
Nta warned against the application of plea bargain to offences such as corruption, homicide, murder, manslaughter, infanticide, genocide, kidnapping and rape.
He noted that it was imperative that criminals who committed major offences were made to serve the appropriate sentences.
The ICPC chairman, who was represented by the Acting Deputy Director, Legal, of the Commission, Akeem Lawal, said, “On the other hand however, it would seem that offences like stealing of small amounts of money, thievery and common assault, stealing of animals, articles and properties, dealing in stolen goods, traffic offences and other crimes that are not life threatening with the exception of armed robbery, should ordinarily be considered amenable to determination by plea-bargaining process in order to save time and de-congest our courts.”
Arguing that plea bargain should not be applicable to corruption cases, the ICPC boss stressed that it (corruption) had the “potential to truncate the dreams and aspirations of the youth of any nation to qualitative education.”
Nta said the ICPC had studied the Draft Bill on plea bargain.
“We consider it appropriate, but would only advise that it should not be made applicable to cases with serious moral reprehension on the lives of Nigerians,” he said.
Chairman NLRC Justice Umaru Kalgo, a retired Justice of the Supreme Court, quoting from the Black’s Law Dictionary, defined plea bargain as a process whereby the accused and the prosecution in a criminal case work out a mutually satisfactory disposition of the case subject to court approval.
Justice Kalgo said, “It is clear from the above definition that the process is subject to court approval, but there is no doubt that by pleading guilty to a charge or charges, the time for trial of the case is saved and expenses involved minimised.
“The disposition of criminal charges by agreement between the prosecutor and the accused is, in my view, an essential component of the criminal justice administration and if properly followed will eliminate or reduce to minimum the time and expenses involved in full-scale trials.”
Justice Kalgo said the NLRC was empowered, by the provisions of section 5 and 7 of its enabling Act, to take and keep under review all federal laws with a view to their systematic and progressive development and reform in consonance with the prevailing norms of the Nigerian society.
In the same vein, the Acting Director, Legal Services of the EFCC, Chile Okoroma, said the anti-graft agency did not on its own go out to offer plea bargain as a means of settling corruption cases.

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