As part of efforts to decongest correctional facilities across the State and ensure quick dispensation of justice, the Lagos State Ministry of Justice, through the Directorate of Public Prosecutions (DPP), has held a stakeholders’ meeting to further enhance and promote plea bargain and district prosecutors’ scheme of the State Government.
Addressing participants at the meeting, which was a hybrid version of both physical and online, the Lagos State Commissioner for Justice and Attorney-General, Mr. Moyosore Onigbanjo (SAN), noted that the meeting presented an opportunity to create more awareness about the Plea Bargain and the District Prosecutors’ Scheme as well as a platform to receive feedback from stakeholders on how to improve and further strengthen the Plea Bargain and District Prosecutor Scheme.
According to him, the District Prosecutor Scheme took off in April 2020 following the recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Police Prosecutors at the Magistrate Courts, chaired by Mr. Fola Arthur-Worrey, former Solicitor-General in the State, to set up a review mechanism that will ensure residents are not unnecessarily detained for civil charges.
His words: “Based on these recommendations, Mr. Governor’s approval was sought and with the cooperation of the Lagos State Judiciary, the Ministry of Justice deployed District Prosecutors to three Magistrate Courts – Ebute-Metta. lkorodu, Ogba – to vet charges before filing and ensure case files submitted for remand meet the evidential threshold required by law”.
“Seeing the huge impact of the scheme, Lagos State Government extended the services to all Magistrate Court Houses across the State”, Onigbanjo noted.
The Commissioner also stated that plea bargain has served as an important tool to keep the wheel of justice moving in a timely and cost-effective manner, as it has helped decongest the extremely congested correctional facilities in the State.
“To demonstrate our commitment towards the exercise, we took plea bargain a step further about four months ago, when l led a team of Lawyers to the Kirikiri Maximum Correctional Facility for a Plea Bargain sensitisation exercise where more than 15 plea Bargain Agreements were executed onsite and sanctioned immediately by the Judges through Virtual Hearing”, he revealed.
Onigbanjo reiterated the present administration’s commitment to enhancing the administration of criminal justice in the State with the implementation of the use of video conferencing in criminal proceedings, Magistrates’ visits to Police Stations monthly, Prohibition of media parade of suspects, Remote Hearing and Award of compensation to victims of crime among others.
He, however, sought the continued cooperation and partnership of stakeholders to implement the laudable initiatives.
Earlier, the Solicitor-General and Permanent Secretary Ministry of Justice, Ms. Titilayo Shitta-bey, maintained that the State Government has done a lot to improve on its administration of justice system with the various innovations, which has set the pace for other States.
According to her, the Plea Bargain has also assisted in the decongestion of prisons and promotion of speedy dispensation of justice for everyone in Lagos State, irrespective of status, gender and tribe.
The Director of Public Prosecution, Lagos State Ministry of Justice, Mrs. Adeyinka Adeyemi, noted that the essence of the workshop is to eliminate the perceived misconception on plea bargaining, hence the need for the sensitisation programme for stakeholders in the legal community as well as the public.
She, however, reiterated that the application for plea bargaining is free, noting that over 500 applications have been reviewed and considered.
The State coordinator of the Rule of Law and Anti-Corruption (RoLAC) programme, Mrs. Ajibola Ijimakinwa, said that the body has partnered with the State’s Ministry of Justice on a plea bargain with the training of judges, magistrates and prosecutors, just as a pleas bargain manual was developed to sensitise lawyers and also judicial correspondents on how to report plea bargain processes and outcomes accurately.
She commended Lagos State for being a pacesetter in the administration of the criminal justice system, urging other States in the federation to emulate the giant strides achieved.
Reiterating the importance of the District Prosecutors’ Scheme, the guest speaker and former Solicitor-General, Mr. Fola Arthur-Worrey, stated that the District Prosecutor’s duty is to ensure that the Attorney-General prosecutorial mandate is properly represented at the district level and that only cases that satisfy the “reasonable suspicion” clause of the 1999 constitution and the “probable cause” provision are allowed to pass through the vetting process and end up before the magistrate for trial or remand.
This, according to him, will reduce the issue of congestion of cases while abuse of prosecutorial power would be checked and matters concerning actual suspects will proceed speedily.