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Views on criminal justice

Apr 13, 2010, 2:32 PM | Article By: Lawyer Assan Martin

It is true and an accepted view that an independent justice system enhances public confidence in government, and also encourages foreign investment, which in turn helps to generate employment opportunities.

However, the current challenges facing our criminal justice system are enormous and chaotic. For this reason, our criminal justice system needs effective and comprehensive reforms to meet the challenges of the 21st Century.

We must critically look at some of the factors affecting our criminal justice system and consider the various areas that require essential reforms. Central in this issue is the role of police and prosecutions.

The failure of proper investigation and collecting evidence has been a major problem affecting criminal cases. Our police forces need professional training in investigating and collecting evidences, and also in human rights issues.

As the backlog of cases increase and also the rate at which criminality increases, prosecution cannot ignore the issue of plea-bargaining in resolving cases, which in itself should not be seen as letting criminals off the hook, but by way of reformative justice to allow individuals who are remorseful back in society as good citizens.

As opposed to plea-barging in criminal matters, the Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) in civil cases can be the most effective measure to help reduce the backlog of civil case. Although being practised in so many high court cases, they should be extended in the subordinate courts around municipalities and regions.

The ADR should be explored by litigants to resolve their difference/disputes, based on compromise and honesty on issues for the truth to prevail. The public should also be sensitised to know that the agreed terms in negotiation can be put as consent judgment of a court, and can be executed against party/parties by the tribunal.

Also, for a more effective criminal justice system to exist, the law-makers must also review some of the penal laws that are very draconian and counter-productive in tackling crimes. The belief that long and hard sentences by the courts can prevent offenders from criminality can have negative results, and can only lead to increased government expenses in keeping prisoners.

Reformative justice in the form of short and sharp sentences can have positive effect on preventing crimes and can serve to rehabilitate convicted prisoners. We must also consider that our prisons have become so over-crowded that it raises concern about the health and feeding of prisoners, especially the conditions they live in.

In order to tackle crime, we must tackle the root causes of crimes. Youth unemployment and social discontent have led to a rise in criminality. Young people have to be sensitised against criminal activities and into positive way of life.

Suffice to say that, police and prosecution should not be seen beefing up counts or charges against an alleged offender, such as stolen mobile, etc or misdemeanour that can be dealt with on one count, considering the circumstances which they happen. Otherwise a trial of such can last for years.

Another cumbersome process in our justice system is the issue of police, security forces and agencies dealing with private civil matters. This is improper and it is a concern.

The police and other security forces (Army) should not be engaged in a civil matter. Such are matters the private citizen should report to the court or initiate an action. However, where police are involved in private civil matters it will definitely lead to corruption.

Equally, the military should engage in civil matters, as criminal matters should be referred to police who are in the best position to handle them.

Reform of our criminal justice is urgently needed, considering the plight of several remanded prisoner who spend years in prison without trial.

There is a need to look at the criminal justice system and make it better. Also, there is a need to remedy some of the injustice still existing in the system, as there is no justification for people to be remanded over 10 years or 13 years without a trial as in the case of Pa Jarra and Abdou Rahain Baldeh.