COVID-19: CJN canvasses decongestion of prisons, directs Chief Judges to ensure speedy trial of cases/ Tanko Muhammad, Chief Justice of Nigeria

The Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Tanko Muhammad, has directed the Chief Judges across the country to fast-track trial of criminal cases so as to decongest prisons in Nigeria.

In the memo with reference number, NJC/CIR/HOC/II/662, and dated May 15, 2020, he also ordered the judges to “consider conditional or unconditional release of Awaiting Trial Persons who have spent 6 years or more in custody.”

According to him, the directive was consequent upon call by the United Nations on countries of the world “to consciously reduce the population of prison inmates since physical distancing and self-isolation in such conditions are practically impossible” during the ravaging COVID-19 pandemic.

The CJN stated it was unfortunate that despite clamour for social distancing among other directives, the country’s prisons have remained congested due to people awaiting trial for years.

He said: “From available records, the inmates population at various custodial centres across the country presently stands at about 74,127 out of which 52,226 are Awaiting Trial Persons.

“Most of these custodial centres are presently housing inmates beyond their capacities and the overcrowded facilities pose a potent threat to the health of the inmates and the public in general in view of the present circumstances, hence the need for urgent steps to bring the situation under control.”

He went on to ask the Chief Judges “to embark on immediate visit to all custodial/correctional centres within your respective states to identify and release deserving inmates, where that has not been done already.”

 “During the requested visit, the Chief Judges are enjoined to consider conditional or unconditional release of Awaiting Trial Persons who have spent six years or more in custody.

“ATPs who have no confirmed criminal cases against them, aged inmates and terminally ill may be discharged.

“It is expected that particular attention should be on the aged, those with health issues, low risk offenders, those with no sufficient legal basis to remain in custody, inmates convicted for minor offences with or without option of fines and inmates who have less than three years term left to serve having served a substantial term of their service for offences that attract 5 years and above.

“Payment of fines may be made in favour of inmates convicted of lesser offences with option of fine, who are in custody because of their inability to pay such fines. The list of deserving inmates as provided by the Correctional Service Formations across the Country with above criteria is hereby attached for your guidance.”