The problem of high population of Awaiting Trial Persons (ATPs) has been consistently underscored by both state and non-state actors as a major crack in the Nigerian criminal justice system. The often highlighted causes for this problem include: poor utilization of bail processes, poor level of coordination amongst criminal justice agencies, arbitrary arrests and detention, corruption, slow administration of justice, lack of access to justice especially for the poor, the vulnerable and the powerless in the society.
To successfully curb the every rising number of ATPs in Nigeria, PRAWA maintains that the reduction in the proportion of awaiting trial / un-convicted persons in prison require a corresponding reduction in both their reception rate into prison and the duration of their stay in prison custody. The organization believes that controlling the reception rate and custody duration of un-convicted detainees can be facilitated through an effective use of the bail process. This is because the bail process offers the criminal justice system an opportunity to have some accused persons/defendants stay away from prison custody until the determination of the case.
One out of the many criteria used by judges or magistrates in determining whether or not to grant bail is ‘If the accused persons are likely to present themselves in court at the next adjourned date and throughout the trial if released on bail?’
To aid any presiding judge or magistrate in assessing the above question, there is need for the provision of accurate information regarding the accused person. Basic information such as current address, permanent address, next of kin, social and economic ties (current work / employment status, etc) can aid the judge/magistrate in this crucial decision making process especially if the information is derived from a trusted source – an independent and verifiable source.
There are also instances where stringent bail conditions are awarded which cannot be met by the accused persons/defendants. This usually fuels the continued increase in the number of awaiting trial persons in prison custody, sometimes up to several years after the initial granting of their conditional bail. Hence, presenting enormous costs to both the state and the affected individuals.
Driven by the desire to proffer adequate solutions to the above needs and gaps, PRAWA established a Bail Information Centre in Enugu State-Nigeria. The centre is tasked with managing a centralized database on the bail status of accused persons as well as providing independent verifiable information to court in relation to the bail applicants and their proposed sureties. The Enugu State Bail Information Centre which is the first of its kind in Nigeria, was commissioned in December 2014 and located within the Enugu State High Court premises.
The commissioning was graced with the attendance of the Honourable Attorney General of the State, Hon. Justice C.C Nwobodo representing the Chief Judge of the State, members of the Judicial Service Commission, the Director of Public prosecution, a representative from the Customary Court of Appeal, a good number of Magistrates and Prosecutors from the department of Public Prosecution.