Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF), Prince Lateef Fagbemi (SAN), has cautioned judges against remanding minor offenders with hardened criminals in a bid to reduce the number of awaiting trial inmates in Nigerian correctional centres.
Fagbemi who made the call in Abuja on Monday, in an address during the opening session of a two-day workshop on the implementation of the Non-Custodial Measures and Sentencing Guidelines under the ACJA, 2015, also called for the implementation of non-custodial measures and sentencing guidelines.
The AGF reasoned that remanding minor offenders with hardened criminals could lead them to end up being initiated into a life of crime instead of being reformed.
Fagbemi who was represented by a Director in the Federal Ministry of Justice, Mrs. Leticia Ayoola-Daniel, described sentencing as a core judicial function in criminal justice with the purpose of reforms and not only punishment for offences.
“In discharging that function, the sentencing Judge must strive to achieve the right balance between imposing a merited sentence in the case at hand, while maintaining a broad level of consistency with other cases so that sentencing at a systematic level is fair,” he said.
“Sentencing guidelines and frameworks are best understood as means to enable the sentencing court to strike that sometimes elusive balance.
“The Administration of Criminal Justice Act was enacted and came into force on May 13, 2015.
“The Act placed premium on non-custodial sentences. In line with ACJA 2015, the Federal Government has set out guidelines to stipulate the requirements and procedure for imposing Non-Custodial sentencing for the purpose of preventing abuse and ensuring reasonable uniformity and fairness in the imposition of sentences.
“In order to facilitate the application and effective use of the non-custodial sentencing, the legal and regulatory framework must be effectively implemented.
“The purpose of non-custodial measures is to find effective alternatives to imprisonment for offenders.
“This is in accordance with the current global shift in punishing convicts with alternatives to prison terms.
“The aim of the trend is to give the judges and magistrates much latitude and discretion to award befitting and purposeful punishment to convicts aside the punishment suggested by the statute creating the offence.
“Today we have seen countless cases where defendants are arrested for minor offences and locked up in prisons adding to the population of awaiting trial inmates.
“These offenders remanded with hardened criminals end up being initiated into a life of crime instead of being reformed,” he added.
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