The passage of a bill by Lagos State House of Assembly, to amend the Administration of Criminal Justice Law 2015, to prohibit parading of suspects by the police is in tandem with the 1999 constitution (as amended), so we welcome it. No doubt, a combined reading of sections 34(1)(a) that no person shall be subjected to “degrading treatment” and 36(5) on presumption of innocence of a suspect, makes such parade a mockery of the 1999 constitution (as amended).
Indeed, that law should have been in place across the country long before now, but, as the saying goes: better late than never. We therefore commend the Lagos State government for leading the charge to restore the dignity of suspects, who deserve to be treated in accordance with the due process of the laws of the country. We also urge governments of other states to emulate Lagos State, by enacting similar legislation in their states.
The amendment provides in section 9(a) that: “As from the commencement of this law, the police shall refrain from parading any suspect before the media in the state.” Of note, that demeaning practice is reserved exclusively for the poor segment of our society. Rarely do the well-heeled members of the society ever get paraded. Perhaps because the police understand that such acts could result in an action for damages, for breach of the fundamental right of fair hearing.
In condemning the parade of suspects, we are not unmindful of the social pressure on police to apprehend suspects as soon as a crime is committed. At times when a crime arouses significant public interest, the police are under pressure from their superiors and the general public, to solve the crime. In some instances, there is the allegation that persons who are not connected to the crime in question are apprehended and paraded.
So, there is the need for a reorientation of the public that it is better for the police to do a thorough investigation to apprehend the real culprits and deal with crime in accordance with the law, instead of a show for the sake of satiating public angst. Again, in some cases it is the political office holders who put pressure on the police to solve a crime, in other to appear to be efficient.
With the new law prohibiting the parade of suspects, the police are protected from such pressure from any quarters, as it will be against the law to yield to it. We are however not unmindful of the conflict between the police as a federal institution and the laws made by the state government. There may therefore be some overzealous police officers who may resist the law, in the mistaken belief that they are not bound by it.
We must point out from the onset that most criminal offences in our laws are governed by state legislation. So, the state governments have the powers to make laws for the administration of criminal justice within their states. No doubt, prohibiting the parade of suspects by police is a procedural matter, and as such fall within the purview of state legislation. We also believe that with the law in place, the frontiers of true federalism gets a further boost.
An efficient criminal justice system is in the interest of all and sundry. So, we urge the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and all states’ attorneys- general to facilitate the enactment of similar laws within their jurisdiction, to forswear the temptation to parade suspects in other parts of the country. Our country should move in the direction of international best practices in its criminal justice system.