Saturday, May 19, 2012

We Need to Replicate the Justice on Wheels Programme in Nigeria

Justice on Wheels Bus

A whooping 33, 692 inmates in Nigerian prisons are said to be awaiting trial out of a total of 48,124 (Source: Daily Independent). Several attempts have been made by civil society and other non-governmental organisations to draw attention to this anomaly with very minimal success.

I was just watching France24 earlier today and saw a story about 'Justice on Wheels' in Thailand.  It is a programme in which a bus is designed as a court with a judge and moves from Prison to Prison attending to the cases of 'awaiting trial' inmates.

For information on this concept, read this:
[b]‘Justice on wheels’ disposes 67 cases [/b]
WITH DISPATCH. Supreme Court Deputy Administrator Nimfa Cuesta Vilches, along with Naga City Mayor John Bongat witness the disposition of cases inside the Justice on Wheels’ bus that held court at the Naga City Hall Compound. 

A total of 67 cases were disposed of recently by local courts inside a mobile court, actually a bus, sent by the Supreme Court in this city last July 22, Friday.

The project, “The Justice on Wheels and the Increasing Access to Justice by the Poor,” is a part of the Supreme Court’s campaign for a speedy and fair disposition of justice made accessible to concerned parties within the marginalized sector, Executive Judge Jaime Contreras of RTC Branch 25.

Contreras added that it was the first time that the court on wheels came to the City of Naga to provide deliberation on civil and criminal cases involving inmates and detainees in the local Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP), disposing as many as 67 cases during its one-day stay at the Naga City People’s Hall in the City Hall Compound.

He explained that the cases brought there were already sorted and read prior to the arrival of the Justice on Wheels and were only waiting for formal disposition from local judges.

The bus, which was made to resemble an ordinary courtroom, allowed the accused and the complainant to hear the decision of their case in less than fifteen minutes in the presence of Deputy Court Administrator and member of the Committee on Justice on Wheels of the Supreme Court, Justice Nimfa Cuesta Vilches.

Contreras confirmed that the presence of the mobile court, dubbed as justice on wheels, is one of the ways through which the Supreme Court can improve our justice system and make it more accessible to the poor.
Contreras, however, was quick to point out that the justice system and disposition of cases within Camarines Sur and the City of Naga are not a problem as far as the local courts here are concerned.

He stressed that there is no backlog of cases here as compared to other provinces where a criminal charge against one person could go on for as long as 10 years without seeing the dawn of justice.
“Our lawyers and judges here know the value of speedy disposition of cases to the common man,” Contreras said. “As you can see, our lawyers are highly supportive and even voluntary in their participation with this program. This is proof of how much we value justice.”

Now: Can we get a 100 buses like these in Nigeria over the next 3 years?  40 could be purchased in the first year, 30 in the second and third. With the use of computers and internet these cases can be attended to with dispatch and records of proceedings saved and backed-up without the need for keeping paper files as records which create delays, aid inefficiency and encourage corruption. It will also reduce the cost of running prisons as there will be fewer prisoners and those convicted will serve their prison terms in more humane conditions that can better facilitate their reformation and integration into society.
In addition, it will create jobs for lawyers, civil servants, ICT professionals and other people. It is a very do-able and worthwhile project to undertake. Yes, we have problems in Nigeria but with a little thinking, dedication and willingness to make things work; they can be solved or at least mitigated.

Is someone out there reading this and willing to take action?

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