The House of Representatives Tuesday endorsed the formal inclusion of plea bargain in the administration of criminal justice in the country.
The lawmakers took this bold step yesterday when it considered and adopted the report of its Committee on Justice on a bill for an Act to repeal the Criminal Procedure Act and enact the Administration of Criminal Justice Act.
The new piece of legislation is designed to enhance speedy dispensation efficient administration of criminal justice.
The lawmakers, at the Committee of the Whole yesterday considered the 494-clause bill, adopting a wide range of reforms including the plea bargain instrument in criminal justice administration.
In adopting the controversial process, the lawmakers have put in place nine pillars to guard against possible abuse.
Under the new law, some of the conditions for plea bargain are that the defendant must be willing to cooperate in the investigation or prosecution of others; the defendants history with respect to criminal activity; the defendants remorse or condition and his willingness to assume responsibility for his conduct and the desirability of prompt and certain disposition of the case.
Other factors that are to be considered in granting plea bargain are the likelihood of obtaining a conviction at trial, the probable effect on witnesses; the probable sentence or other consequences if the defendant is convicted; the need to avoid delay in the disposition of other pending cases; the expense of the trial and appeal as well as the willingness of the defendant to make restitution or pay compensation to the victim where appropriate.
Chairman, House Committee on Justice, Hon. Ali Ahmad (PDP/Kwara), said the new legislation would among other things regulate the practice and procedure in criminal matters in all courts across Nigeria.
"It would replace the dual system instituted in the colonial era which has made criminal justice system in the different from what obtains in the South.
“This is a high impact bill that is being awaited at the highest levels of the judiciary and the bar. For the first time, the interest of the victims of crime as it does not only take into account the interest of the accused.
“Its main objective is to address the biggest problem of delay in the administration of criminal justice.
"The law also addresses another intractable issue of court and prison congestion,”Ahmad said.
Apart from stipulating clear procedures for implementing plea bargain, the law seeks to enhance speedy dispensation of justice by imposing restriction on stay of proceedings, restriction on number and interval of adjournments, inapplicability of trial de novo when matter has been partly heard and imposes a duty on the police to electronically record confessional statements.
It also provides alternatives to imprisonment such as community sentence, parole and suspended sentence for minors and first time offenders.