A long acknowledged problem is still dogging the growth path of the Nigerian judiciary. This is the long-drawn cases still pending in many courts in Nigeria. In some cases, suspects are arrested, detained and held beyond the stipulated period of 24 hours before they are charged to court to face trials, thus denying them their habeas corpus rights. Unfortunately, the law itself, sometimes, creates certain technical loopholes to cause delay in bringing suspects to trial. Under this condition, the rights of the helpless and even the innocent are effectively denied and trampled upon.
However, the fundamental legal principle or maxim that “justice delayed is justice denied” remains valid, and the extent to which this guides the legal process is often used as a parameter to measure the maturity, strength, efficiency and quick dispensation of justice in any country.
The notorious, but celebrated case of Lagos State vs Hamza Al-Mustapha & Anor is a contemporary example of justice delayed; the case dragged on for almost a decade and half before it was finally dispensed.
Of course, if legal redress is available for a party that has suffered some injury, but is not forthcoming in a timely fashion, it is effectively the same as having no redress at all. This principle is the basis for the right to a speedy trial and similar rights, which are meant to expedite the legal process, because it is unfair for the injured party to have to sustain the injury with little hope for resolution.
The burden of delayed trial of cases and its opposite, the necessity of accelerated hearing, lies exclusively with the judiciary. The judiciary must discharge this burden with dispatch, with a cue taken from the recent case in the United States that was decided last week.
For kidnaping three women and holding them captive for over a decade in his Ohio home, Cleveland in the United States, Ariel Castro, 53, was sentenced to 1,000 years in prison with no chance of parole last week. Castro was jailed for an aggravated murder charge laid against him, including forcibly terminating the pregnancies of one of his captives. The judge also imposed stiff penalties for hundreds of other charges, including rape.
Castro was arrested in early May this year after one of his victims named Amanda Berry, 27, managed to escape with her six-year-old daughter by calling out to a neighbour for help through a locked front door on May 6.
Castro was subsequently charged to court by June to face a 977-criminal count charge of kidnaping, rape, sexual abuses, violence, threats to inflict violence, chaining, inducing illegal abortion, starving his victims, and other forms of degrading treatment, etc. He pleaded guilty to the 937 counts in exchange for life in prison without the possibility of parole, plus 1,000 years.
The presiding judge said Castro suffers from ‘extreme narcissism’ while the city of Cleveland is to bulldoze his house in order to erase his footprints from the psyche of the citizens.
This case also showed something more critical for legal policy consideration in Nigeria: that the crimes of kidnaping, raping and other forms of infliction of bodily harm on fellow human beings should attract severe penalty. The light sentence given to rape offenders and others shows the cavalier and permissive attitude towards these blighting social problems. These crimes involve denial of fundamental human rights which should be held inviolable by the society, government and especially the judiciary.
Government should also assume responsibility for compensating and rehabilitating the victims of these crimes. The media should also join the efforts of non-governmental organisations involved in the campaign against these social vices and crimes.
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