Chief Justice of Nigeria, Tanko Muhammad, has ordered the release of inmates in correctional centres who have no confirmed criminal case.
The CJN said this in a memo issued on Friday and addressed to all chief judges, states judiciaries and the FCT, owing to the need to urgently decongest prisons during the coronavirus pandemic.
Chief Justice Tanko also urged them to “consider conditional or unconditional release of Awaiting Trial Persons who have spent 6 years or more in custody.”
He said his directive was in line with the call by the United Nations on countries of the world “to consciously reduce the population of prison inmates since physical distancing and self-isolation in such conditions are practically impossible” during the pandemic.
The CJN expressed worry over the overwhelming proportion of awaiting trial inmates in the various prisons across the country.
He noted that of the 74,127 persons held in the prisons, 52,226 of them were awaiting trial, adding that;
Most of these custodial centres are presently housing inmates beyond their capacities and the overcrowded facilities pose a potent threat to the health of the inmates and the public in general in view of the present circumstances, hence the need for urgent steps to bring the situation under control.
He, therefore, asked the Chief Judges to embark on a personal visit to custodial/correctional centres within their jurisdiction, identify and release deserving inmates.
In the memo, the Justice appealed to the Chief Judges to consider discharging the aged, and terminally ill.
During the requested visit, the Chief Judges are enjoined to consider conditional or unconditional release of Awaiting Trial Persons (ATPs) who have spent six years or more in custody. ATPs who have no confirmed criminal cases against them, aged inmates and terminally ill may be discharged.
Chief Justice Muhammad further expressed that;
It is expected that particular attention should be on the aged, those with health issues, low risk offenders, those with no sufficient legal basis to remain in custody, inmates convicted for minor offences with or without option of fines and inmates who have less than three years term left to serve having served a substantial term of their service for offences that attract 5 years and above.
Payment of fines may be made in favour of inmates convicted of lesser offences with option of fine, who are in custody because of their inability to pay such fines. The list of deserving inmates as provided by the Correctional Service Formations across the Country with above criteria is hereby attached for your guidance.
The CJN also asked Chief Judges to ensure that lower courts comply with requirements of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act/law in issuing remand warrants in criminal cases.