Senior lawyers have continued to decry the power granted to Police officers to prosecute criminal cases in the new Police Act signed by President Muhammadu Buhari.
President Buhari last month signed the Nigeria Police Bill, 2020 into law.
The Act repeals the Police Act Cap. P19. Laws of the Federation, 2004, and provides for “a more effective and well-organized Police Force, driven by the principles of transparency and accountability in its operations and management of its resources”, according to a statement signed by the presidency.
Section 66 (2) of the Act states, “A police officer may, subject to the provisions of the relevant criminal procedure laws in force at the Federal or State level, prosecute before any court those offences which non-qualified legal practitioners can prosecute.”
However, protesting against the provision of the section 66(2) lawyers that featured in Elombah Television virtual conference anchored in United Kingdom (UK) kicked against the provision of the Act saying not much progress has been made because non legal practitioners like police officers are still empowered to prosecute.
Speaking on the Act, Barrister Sylvester Udemezue, a lecturer at the Nigeria Law School, Victoria Island, Lagos, said the police should not prosecute, their job is to maintain law and order and to investigate, but not prosecute crime, while Barrister Isaac Ogbah questioned the suggestion there are “non-qualified legal practitioners”.
“Once you are called to Bar and enrolled, every Nigerian lawyer qualifies as a legal practitioner, and could represent clients in any Nigerian court”, Ogbah stated.
All discussants acknowledged some progress have been made by the enactment of the new law, but Udemezue urged the National Assembly to amend the law further to block police officers that are not qualified lawyers from prosecuting cases in court.
He lamented that prosecution of cases by police officers have led to delays, poorly prosecuted cases, dismissal of cases, issues of awaiting trials and prison congestion.
Udemezue said “Police don’t deserve to prosecute, it is not their job. The job of the police is to enforce the law, maintain order and investigate crimes.
“They don’t have any business in prosecution, it is not their job, the only business they have in court is to appear as witnesses, as IPO.
Reacting to suggestions that section 66 should be removed from the Act, Udemezue stated, ‘if you remove section 66, they will still prosecute, what should be done is to make express provision that any policeman who is not a lawyer should not prosecute.’
“No prosecution shall be undertaken by any court in Nigeria unless by a legal practitioner, when you make that express provision there will be no prosecution by any police officer in Nigeria, because Police Act governs the conduct of police officers.
“They should amend the law to make it express that they should not prosecute. The prosecution of cases by police officers have contributed to awaiting trials and prison congestion.
“So many of the Police officers are not able to match or withstand legal fireworks by professionally qualified lawyers who act as defence counsels in court during criminal prosecution.
“There is need for us as matter of urgency to remove lay policemen from prosecution of cases, the only way to do so is through an express prohibition in the Police Act”
Also speaking, Barrister Emmanuel Ewere expressed dissatisfaction with the power granted to police officers to prosecute criminal cases in court urging the Legislature to go back to the drawing and come up with something substantial.
He said, “The Nigeria Judicial system has suffered inadequacies in the area of prosecution and I will focus my attention more on conflict of interest where a policeman finds it very difficult to stand trial with a lawyer that has gone through the process of education and understand how evidence and criminal trials are done in contrast to an untrained policeman.
“The policeman will come to court and try to muscle out a lawyer who has gone through the rudiments of training. The 1943 Act gave the police power to prosecute because we have few lawyers in the country then.
“The current law is supposed to promote an efficient pattern bringing in a law that promotes lawyers, only those that have been trained to prosecute. I think they should go back to the drawing board and get something substantial.”
In his contribution, Obunike Ohaegbu called for the removal of section 66 from the Police Act and amend the constitution to take away power to prosecute from police officers who are not legal practitioners.
He explained that an amendment in the constitution will make it applicable to all 36 states of the federation.
He said, “My opinion is that it makes no difference whether section 66 is expunged or not we need to find a way to make this amendment, applicable to everywhere in Nigeria, and the best way to do that is to find a way to accommodate it in the Nigerian constitution.
“Once it is accommodated in the Nigerian constitution of course every state will be obliged to amend their laws to comply with the provisions of the Constitution.”
Another virtual conference with the topic, ‘The New Nigeria Police Act 2020, Implications for Human Rights in Nigeria’, is scheduled on Sunday, 18 October 2020, Time: 7pm.
VIDEO: The New Nigeria Police Act 2020, Implications for Criminal Prosecution
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