The Duty Solicitor Schemes. (A Panacea to Prison Congestion) By Bamidele Ibikunle*

 

Pre-trial detainees in Nigeria are vulnerable to abuses of their fundamental rights. Suspects are routinely detained without being informed of the charges against them, denied access to Counsel and family members and denied the opportunity to bail for bailable offences. Detainees often are kept incommunicado for long period of time. The provisions of bail are often arbitrary or subject to extrajudicial influence. In some parts of the country there is no functioning system of bail, so suspects are held in investigative detention for sustained period of time. Numerous suspects allege that police demand payment before they are taken to court to have their cases heard.

Data from the prison services indicate that approximately 70 per cent of total prisoners are detainees awaiting trial. Multiple adjournments in (some) cases lead to serious delays. State prosecutors, charged with ensuring due process in criminal arraignments, lack mechanisms to monitor or control the police. Police reporting and filing system is inadequate and numerous individuals are held in detention without proper records documenting their arrest or charges. Notably, the power of magistrate courts to place in remand individuals suspected of crimes beyond the court’s jurisdiction, while awaiting a decision on prosecution, leads to the unaccountable imprisonment of persons not proved guilty. Cases abound of detainees held longer in pre-trial detention than would have been the case had they been convicted of the crime in question.

The duty solicitor scheme aims to address these problems by tackling the weakest institutional links in a system to protect the rights of suspects. The duty solicitors are trained to monitor the communication of cases from Police Station to the magistrate courts and the office of State Directors of Public Prosecution (DPP), to ensure that the DPP is aware of the custodial orders made by Magistrates. The duty solicitor will follow up cases to check that suspects do not remain in custody awaiting trial for longer periods than necessary.

The scheme emphasizes inter-agency cooperation, capacity development and institutional innovation towards solving the problems affecting pre-trial detainees in Nigeria. Collaboration with agencies administering criminal justice may enable an immediate reduction of the numbers awaiting trial as a proportion of the population while at the same time building the attitudes, skills and organization capacities of the concerned agencies for better management of pre-trial detention.

 

POLICE DUTY SOLICITOR SCHEME

The Police Duty Solicitor Scheme (PDSS) was specifically designed to reform the criminal justice system with a view to ensuring that prompt decisions are taken upon arrest, arraignment and prosecution of persons alleged to have committed criminal offences in Nigeria. The Scheme which is carried out by the Legal Aid Council (LAC) in collaboration with the Open Society Justice Initiative (OSJI) and the Nigerian Police Force (NPF) has brought about some significant reduction in prison decongestion as suspects are being offered prompt legal assistance and advice at police stations by duty solicitors on a twenty-four hour basis.

This scheme became operational in the pilot states of Ondo, Kaduna, Imo and Sokoto in year 2006, sequel to the execution of a tripartite Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the Legal Aid Council, Nigerian Police Force and Open Society Justice Initiative.[1]   

The main objective of the scheme was to reduce the average duration and to reduce the turnaround time of legal advice between the Police and Director of Public Prosecution. This is to ensure absolute respect for the constitutional rights of suspects, detainees, and accused persons as well as to resolve simple cases that affect public safety and security. Hence, the MOU was built on cooperation, openness, mutual respect and above all respect for the rule of law, due process and constitutional rights of citizens and duties of government

In the terms of the MOU, the duties of the parties are set out as follows:

The Nigeria Police Force shall:

  1. Support duty solicitors in the performance of their duties by ensuring that they have access to suspects in custody through the Police Liaison Officers.
  2. Assist the Legal Aid Council and the duty Solicitors with information that would lead to the Just and quick determination of a matter and thereby avoid undue hardship.
  3. Assist the Council generally to implement the scheme effectively in their various states.

 

The Legal Aid Council of Nigeria shall:

  1. Provide the services of Lawyers to be known and referred to as duty solicitors who shall be responsible for the operation of the scheme throughout the 36 states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory Abuja.
  2. Designate and deploy from time to time such number of duty solicitors in the states as shall be appropriate for the effective implementation of the scheme.  The Director- General of Legal Aid Council shall promptly notify the Inspector-General of Police and the State Police Commissioner, of such designation and of their deployment.

 

The Open Society Justice Initiative shall:

  1. Provide technical assistance such as training of both the duty solicitors and personnel of the Nigeria Police Force engaged in the implementation of the scheme
  2. Produce a manual for PDSS and monitor the effective implementation of the scheme
  3. Provide co-ordination, convening or such other support as may be considered necessary for the effective implementation of the scheme.

The Legal Aid Council of Nigeria is responsible for engaging the services of duty solicitors who are then posted to various police stations. The assignment of the duty solicitor is to render legal assistance to any person that comes in contact with the police by ensuring that due processes are followed in accordance with the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in the course of interrogating the suspect and ensure that suspects are released on bail as soon as possible within the confines of the law. The duty solicitor is also charged with the responsibility to ensure the immediate release of suspects who have not committed any criminal offence.

It should be noted however that in a State, LAC provides Duty Solicitors in 4 designated Police Stations which is far from being adequate.  The reason behind this is lack of financial and human resources to meet up with this need.  In addition to this is lack of citizen awareness about the existence and functions of Legal Aid Council.

The above calls for a strengthened relationship between LAC and the Nigeria Police Force to ensure that indigent Nigerians access the services of LAC towards ensuring that their fundamental rights to legal services are provided.  S.19 (2) of the Legal Aid Act 2011 provides that:

“it shall be the duty of all Police Officers and Courts to inform suspected person of his entitlement to the services of a legal practitioner from the moment of arrest and if such suspect cannot afford the services of a legal practitioners to notify the Council to represent him if he so desires”.

The above provision is further supported by S.6 (2) (c) of the Administration of the Criminal Justice Act 2015 which provides that:

S. 6(2) ‘The Police officer or the person making the arrest or the Police officer in charge of Police Station shall inform the suspect of his rights to:

            (a)..........................................................

            (b)...........................................................

(c) free legal representation by the Legal Aid Council of Nigeria where applicable’ 

To achieve a successful implementation of the scheme, the Council, had to strictly monitor the activities of the duty solicitors, provide further legal assistance to suspects on completion of their cases, co-ordinate trainings, provide working tools for duty solicitors, collate and review performance reports emanating from the activities and case files of the duty solicitors.

In 2010, the PDSS was extended to Kebbi and Edo States with the support of Open Society in West Africa (OSIWA) and Right Enforcement and Public Law Centre (REPLACE).

The Council is presently operating the PDSS in eight (8) states of the Federation in Nigeria. The Rights Enforcement and Public Law Centre (REPLACE) with the support of OSIWA is providing assistance towards implementing this scheme in Ondo, Kaduna, Imo, Sokoto, Kebbi and Edo States. Mac Arthur Foundation assisted LACON in implementing the Scheme in Rivers and Plateau States. REPLACE implemented the scheme in Nasarawa State with the support of SWISS Embassy in Nigeria. United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes (UNODC) are partnering with LACON towards implementing this scheme in Cross River and Lagos State.

The successes achieved through implementation of the PDSS are immeasurable in terms of cost effectiveness and impact. 

Towards assessing the cost effectiveness, it was discovered in the course of implementing the scheme that any person arrested or detained in Police Station is provided with free legal service under the scheme, hence PDSS is cheaper to such beneficiary who is not paying for the service.

The deployment of NYSC Lawyers that are posted to LAC as Duty Solicitors in the Police Stations is cost effective to LAC.  This is due to fact that these Duty Solicitors are merely paid stipends to cover their transportation cost to and from Police Stations or Courts.

On the totality the Criminal Justice System is the greatest beneficiary of PDSS cost effectiveness. The reduction of persons detained or incarcerated in Police Stations/Prisons reduces the material resources needed to maintain such persons.  The presence of such persons within the community wherein they undertake physical and economic activity is a contribution to economic growth of the Nation.

In terms of impact, the statistical analysis of the collated monthly reports from 1st January 2005 to 31st December, 2013 in the four focal states of Sokoto, Ondo, Imo and Kaduna exposed the impact of PDSS in reducing the number of pre-trial detainees in the states covered.

 

Figure 1

State

2005       

2006

2007

2008

2009

2010

Sokoto

89

1189

883

562

580

734

Ondo

95

803

1072

1662

1817

1002

Imo

5

128

116

150

794

698

Kaduna

243

428

261

227

203

145

Total

432

2548

2332

2601

3394

2579

 

State

2011

2012

2013

State

Grand Total

 

Sokoto

296

0

0

Sokoto

4333

Ondo

724

2693

1897

Ondo

11765

Imo

367

133

176

Imo

2567

Kaduna

0

375

93

Kaduna

1975

Total

1387

3201

2166

Total

20640

 

 

Figure 2[2]

It is the desire of LACON to extend this scheme to all the states of the Federation.

Suffice to mention at this juncture that the scheme is not without its needs and challenges, amongst which are;

(a)              Need for sustainability of PDSS by LAC towards implementing the scheme all over the Federation.

(b)              Need for Government to make special budgetary allocation for PDSS to be effective in all police stations nationwide.

(c)            Need for issuance of Force Order by the Inspector General of Police towards enhancing unhindered access of duty Solicitors to Police stations nationwide and institutionalisation of the scheme as part of police activities.

(d)         Need for partnership between LAC and Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) towards collaborating on pro-bono duty solicitor service by private legal practitioners across the country.

           

COURT DUTY SOLICITOR SCHEME.

LAC is poised towards implementing the Court Duty Solicitor Scheme (CDSS). The objective of the CDSS is to enable any accused person charged or arraigned before a Magistrate Court have access to the services of a Legal Aid Counsel. Considering the level of illiteracy in our country and reduced number of private legal practitioners (especially in the rural areas where larger percentage of Nigerians are resident) LACON deemed it fit to provide the service to indigent citizens who are coming in contact with court procedure for the first time in their lives.

Courts under the local Scheme are identified as “busy” or “less busy” with a duty solicitor being required to be in attendance in court. Such schemes are referred to as “attendance schemes” whilst for “less busy” courts, the duty solicitor will be called-in by the court if required. These schemes are referred to as call-in schemes. To further enhance the duty solicitor scheme, posters and leaflets in different languages will be available for display at police stations, government offices, prisons and courts with phone numbers on which the duty solicitor can be called.

With the commissioning of Legal Aid Centres in the Local Government Areas by LAC and possibly expansion of PDSS, it is hoped that the duty solicitor scheme will reach our citizens residing in the rural areas in the nearest future.



* Bamidele Ibikunle is the Deputy Director, Planning, Research and Statistics Department, Legal Aid Council.

[1] MOU  for the implementation of the PDSS executed on the 13th of June, 2006 between the Legal Aid Council, Nigeria Police Force and Open Society Justice Initiative.

[2] Obtained from the Statistics Unit of the Legal Aid Council.

   

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