By Prince E. Elebor
Mine is obviously a new name, as it’s my first time writing in this space. It is my ernest prayer that this write up will achieve it’s object.
Although Criminal Law is one aspect of the law which many citizens have an appreciable knowledge of, basically because of the consciousness of punishment for criminal wrongs, it is still safe to say that the problem with most Nigerians is ignorance of the workings of the law. Many persons who appreciate that criminal wrongs carry prescribed punishments, do not appreciate, in equal measure, the fact that an accused or defendant has certain rights under our constitutional and criminal jurisprudence. The result is therefore that over-zealous police officers and other law enforcement agencies breach these constitutionally recognized rights with impunity and without apology.
It is hereby proposed to x-ray some of the rights accruing to an accused or defendant.
WHO IS AN ACCUSED
In very simple words, an accused is any person who has been charged with a criminal offence either by the Attorney General of the Federation or State; the Inspector General of Police; Commissioner of Police; the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission; National Drug Law Enforcement Agency or any other law enforcement agency. The Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015 (hereinafter called “the ACJA”) refers to an accused person as a Defendant. Thus, using the word Accused or Defendant refers to one and the same thing.
RIGHTS OF ACCUSED PERSONS
It is noteworthy that the rights discussed herein are discussed in no particular order. Having said that, a person who has been accused of, and charged with a criminal offence is, by law, entitled to the following rights:
1. Right to a Fair and Public Trial
One very fundamental right accruing to an accused person is the right to a fair and public trial. This right which is provided by section 36(1),(3) and (4) of the 1999 Constitution, entitles an accused person to have an opportunity to make his defence, in public and within a reasonable time, in a court or tribunal which is constituted in such a manner as to secure and ensure its independence and impartiality. Section 36(1) therefore provides that In the determination of his civil rights and obligations, including any question or determination by or against any government or authority, a person shall be entitled to a fair hearing within a reasonable time by a court or other tribunal established by law and constituted in such manner as to secure its independence and impartiality. Subsection (3) and (4) of section 36 of the Constitution jointly provides that the proceedings of a court or the proceedings of any tribunal relating to the matters mentioned in subsection (1) of this section (including the announcement of the decisions of the court or tribunal) shall be held in public and Whenever any person is charged with a criminal offence, he shall, unless the charge is withdrawn, be entitled to a fair hearing in public within a reasonable time by a court or tribunal. The only exception to this rule is where in the interest of public safety, public order, public defence etc., or upon satisfaction of the court by a Minister of the Government of the Federation or Commissioner of the Government of a State that a public trial is against the public interest. In Adigun v. A.G. Oyo State (1987) 1 NWLR (Pt. 53) 678 at 745 Karibi-Whyte JSC observed that prejudice to the person whose right to fair hearing has been infringed is not a necessary requirement for the invalidating of the act consequent upon the breach. It is unnecessary to consider whether the result would have been the same had the complainant been heard. The injury, if any is sought, is the deprivation of the right itself. It is not quantifiable and so incalculable anyway. Hence the remedy is to nullify the proceedings. Also in Umaru Sunday v. Federal Republic of Nigeria (2013) AELR 1340 (CA) the Court of Appeal stated that “the law is settled that a valid arraignment of an accused or offender must enure and guarantees to the accused a fair hearing and fair trial as enshrined in section 35 and 36 of the Constitution of Nigeria, 1999 as amended or altered.”