“Enhancing Legal Representation for Remand Prisoners” is being piloted in Enugu prisons. Currently there is no system in operation to ensure that awaiting trial prisoners (ATPs) have access to legal representation from the time of arrest and throughout their time on remand until their case has been finalized.
The result is that many accused persons, particularly those from poor and vulnerable groups, spend extended periods awaiting resolution of their cases because of inadequate legal representation. The lack of legal representation means that nobody is pushing for the investigation to be completed; or for the legal opinion to be prepared; or the case to be filed in court if appropriate. Even once the case gets to court, if the accused person turns up without a defence lawyer, the judge is likely to adjourn the case until a defence lawyer has been appointed and had time to prepare the defence case.
During the consultation process the following ‘root causes’ were identified that have led to the current situation:
- The absence of a structured system for monitoring the legal representation needs of remand prisoners.
- The inadequate resources available to the various state and civil society organisations to provide legal representation to remand prisoners.
- The lack of coordination between providers of legal aid and pro-bono services to ensure that required services are made available to remand prisoners.
- The absence of an adequate mechanism to encourage lawyers to provide pro bono legal services to remand prisoners and ensure that due credit is given to lawyers for doing so.
- The lack of rights awareness and knowledge of the criminal justice process by remand prisoners and justice professionals, especially in relation to enabling remand prisoners to secure legal representation.
- Difficulties encountered by lawyers in securing access to, and communication with, remand prisoners (including visiting rights, inadequate visiting space and insufficient time allocated for such visits, allegations that payments are required before visits are allowed, etc.)
- Lack of knowledge of defence lawyers of prison rules and appropriate means of communication with remand prisoners.
A comprehensive and systematic mechanism for ensuring that remand prisoners have access to legal representation will help speed up the criminal justice process and contribute to improved ‘quality’ of justice.
There is no legal requirement on the police, the magistrates or the prisons to provide an accused person with information on how to access a defence lawyer, although once a case reaches the High Court, the presiding judge is required by Enugu State Criminal Procedure Rules to ensure the accused has access to adequate defence.
The welfare department of the Nigerian Prison Service (NPS) may also have a role to play in ensuring that remand prisoners have information and assistance on how to access a defence lawyer.
The Goal of the project is to ensure that persons on remand in Enugu prisons have access to timely legal representation.
The Project Objectives
- To reduce the number of remand prisoners whose cases are delayed as a consequence of them not having access to legal representation.
- To improve coordination between providers of free legal representation (legal aid and pro-bono) so that scare resources are allocated efficiently and effectively.
- To improve information available to awaiting trial prisoners and their families on their rights and options in relation to available sources of free legal representation and how to access them.
- To speed up the allocation of pro bono lawyers to remand prisoners whilst maintaining the quality of the services provided in line with human rights principles, legal and operational guidelines.
- To enhance the communication, coordination and mutual respect between defence lawyers and officers of the prisons and other detention centres.
Strategy and Expected Activities
The programme plans to support the following activities:
- Assist to develop an ‘inventory’ of providers of free legal representation, including their capacity and areas of coverage.
- Carry out an assessment of the ‘legal representation status’ of inmates in Enugu Prisons.
- Assist the justice sector to design and establish a centralized system for matching remand prisoners in need of free legal representation with lawyers who can provide such services. This will include identifying the appropriate organisation to run the system and development of operational procedures, including protocols with providers of legal representation services. Training and limited resources may be provided to establish the system.
- Assist the managers of the system to sensitize providers of free legal services to the functionality of the system and how to engage with it.
- Provide guidance to lawyers, remand prisoners, prison officers, police officers and other law enforcement agents on the correct way to gain or facilitate access to remand prisoners in prisons and other places of detention and educate them all on the rights and responsibilities of all parties.
- Sensitize criminal justice agencies and the public on how the system will work and their role in ensuring its effectiveness and secure public support for the scheme.
- Support the Nigerian Bar Association to oversee the activities of their members in relation to the provision of free legal representation to ensure highest ethical standards are maintained in the provision of legal services to remand prisoners.