THE RIGHTS OF AN ACCUSED PERSON UNDER THE 1999 CONSTITUTION (2)

THE RIGHTS OF AN ACCUSED PERSON UNDER THE 1999 CONSTITUTION (2)

By Prince Elebor.

Continued From the previous post.

2. Right to be Presumed Innocent

Section 36(5) of the 1999 Constitution provides clearly that an accused person is at all times presumed innocent until he is proven guilty. This means that there is no duty on the accused or defendant to prove his innocence as the law already presumes him to be guiltless unless and until he is proven otherwise. The prosecution therefore has a duty of proving the guilt of the accused or defendant beyond reasonable doubt.

3. Right to be Informed Promptly of the Nature of the Offence

Although the Police and other law enforcement agencies have an unfettered right to arrest any person whom they suspect on reasonable grounds to have committed an offence or who commits an offence in their presence. (See sections 18 and 19 of the ACJA; section 10 of the Criminal Procedure Act and section 24 & 25 of the Police Act). The law also entitles a suspect or defendant, after arrest, to be informed promptly and in details of the offence for which he is arrested. Sections 35(3) and 36(6)(a) of the Constitution jointly provides that every person who is arrested or detained or charged with a criminal offence shall shall be informed in writing within twenty-four hours (and in a language that he understands) and in detail of the nature of the offence, facts and grounds for his arrest or detention. It is settled law as was held in Ifeagwu v. FRN & Ors (2001) 47 WRN 86 that by sections 36(8) and (12) of the Constitution, a person cannot be convicted of an offence which is not created by a written law, or for an act which is not declared by law to be an offence. A similar position was taken in the classical case of Aoko v. Fagbemi (1961) 1 All NLR 400.

4. Right to be Given Adequate Time and Facilities for the Preparation of his

Defence

By section 36(6)(b), it is the right of an accused person to be given adequate time and facilities for the preparation of his defence. This necessarily means that once a charge or an information is brought in the Magistrates’ Court or the High Court (Federal or State), the accused person has a right to demand, if not given, for all the processes of documents which the prosecution intends to rely on so as to enable him prepare his defence. It is a breach of the Constitution and consequently affects the validity of the decision that will be reached if this right is denied the defendant.

5. Right to Defend Himself Personally or by Legal Practitioner of Choice

Most persons do not even know that they have a constitutional right to defend themselves personally, in any civil or criminal matter. Section 36(6)(c) of the Constitution entitles an accused person to defend himself in person or by legal practitioners of his own choice. This means that the defendant could elect to be his own lawyer throughout the trial. In more developed societies in the west, private persons represent themselves. However, representing oneself entails a good and working knowledge of the law which most Nigerians are lacking. Of course, in a society as ours one would usually prefer the professionalism, dexterity and expertise of a trial lawyer thus an accused also has the right to retain Counsel. That is, a right to be represented by a lawyer. It is noteworthy that the if an accused hires a foreign lawyer, the lawyer will be subject to the requirements for practicing in Nigeria and immigration rules. See Awolowo v. Federal Minister of Internal Affairs (1962) L.L.R. 177. Also, where an accused has no money to hire a lawyer, the government shall provide a lawyer for him under the Legal Aid Act.

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