A significant cause of delays in the criminal justice process is non-attendance of witnesses at court. Witnesses include ordinary citizens and ‘specialist’ witnesses such as Investigating Police Officers (IPOs) and expert witnesses e.g. medical doctors, coroners, etc).
The consultation process and analysis of delays occurring during the trial stage of the criminal justice process identified a number of root causes including:
- The absence of a functioning system to reimburse witnesses for the costs incurred in attending court proceedings (e.g. transport to court, etc). Of particular note is the problem of reimbursing transport costs to IPOs who have since been transferred away from the place where the trial is taking place
- Witnesses fear being harmed or intimidated by suspects or their families / associates.
- The social stigma attached to victims of certain crimes (e.g. rape, unlawful carnal knowledge, domestic violence, etc) deters victims and witnesses (especially family members) from attending court as witnesses.
- The absence of structured mechanisms for recording and keeping up to date information on witnesses whereabouts; which can make it difficult for police and prosecutors to track them down, particularly if a long period of time has passed since the crime was committed.
- A lack of understanding of citizens of their legal obligations in relation to witness duties in the trial process. This is exacerbated by the absence of structured witness support services to provide information and support to court witnesses
- The unreliability of the system in place to enforce witness attendance requirements (e.g. through use of witness summons).
- The result is that many criminal proceedings are frustrated because of the non-attendance of witnesses, leading to delays in the disposal of cases. On occasions when witnesses do not attend at all, there is also an effect on the ‘quality’ of justice as the court is not able to hear the full facts of the case.
The Goal of the project is to reduce the incidences of non-attendance of witnesses at criminal trials and thereby speed up the resolution of criminal cases and reduce the time that awaiting trial prisoners spend on remand.
- To improve the quality and availability of information and support services for witnesses on their role and responsibilities as witnesses.
- To increase the level of awareness on the need for the government to provide financial and other support to court witnesses.
- To support advocacy efforts to encourage the provision of a Court Witness Fund and Witness Protection Programme for vulnerable witnesses.
- To encourage dialogue, experience sharing, coordination and planning amongst relevant government institutions towards introducing individual and joint initiatives on enhancing support to court witnesses, including budget reviews and alignment to help address this issue.
Strategy and Expected Activities
The programme is planned to support the following activities:
- Support state and non-state actors to advocate for the revival of budget lines to cover reasonable expenses incurred by court witnesses in attending court.
- Support for the establishment of structured systems in justice sector institutions (Ministry of Justice, Nigeria Police Force and the Judiciary) to provide advice and support to court witnesses (including expert witnesses, prosecution witnesses, defence witnesses, and vulnerable witnesses). This is likely to include the establishment of secure systems for tracking witnesses and if possible provision of transport and security for vulnerable witnesses when attending court.
- Support relevant organisations to develop and disseminate culturally appropriate information, education and communication (IEC) materials for court witnesses and the public in general (also in Ibo and Pidgin English where necessary)./li>
- Training and guidance for criminal justice agencies on protection and handling of witnesses including their rights. Assist the development of policies and standard operational procedures where appropriate.
- Assist the Enugu State Judiciary to establish a ‘Witness Support Unit’ in a pilot court where witnesses attending court can get basic information on the court and their role as a witness and have access to a safe and private place to wait until called to court.
- Carry out research into witness protection policies and practices in Enugu State and elsewhere with a view to longer term development and implementation of formal witness protection policies and laws for Enugu State as well as replication of the scheme.