THE RELATIONSHIP AMONGST THE POLICE, LAWYERS AND THE LOWER BENCH IN THE ADMINISTRATION OF JUSTICE IN PLATEAU STATE: A POLICE PERSPECTIVE
There is a general expectation that every individual is expected to perform his or her work to the best of their abilities. This is the case when one looks at the police, lawyers or judicial officers. However, from my experience as a policeman and a lawyer, I have discovered that unnecessary conflict do come up in the course of these various persons, that is the police, lawyers and judicial officers performing their functions. These conflicts, in my opinion, can be avoided, if we understand that we all play complimentary roles in society rather than antagonistic ones. Each however, is duty bound to perform his role to the best of his ability for the betterment of society.
In discussing the relationship amongst the police, lawyers and the lower bench, in the administration of justice, I intend to discuss it from the perspective of a police officer, the fact that I am a lawyer notwithstanding. I hope that the discussion will create better insights as to how the average policeman does his work, views a lawyer and members of the lower bench. I hope it will also create a better understanding on the expectations and frustrations of the average police officer in the course of performing his legitimate functions and foster greater understanding from the lawyers including the members of the lower bench, not only in Plateau State but the country in general.
CLARIFICATION OF TERMS:
Police- Police generally refers to the institution known as the Nigerian Police Force comprising of several commands and departments. For the purpose of this discussion however, it is important to restrict the term to members of departments in the police that investigate and prosecute suspected offenders. Among police prosecutors, there are non-lawyers who represent the institution at the lower courts.
Lawyers-is used in this discussion to refer to qualified legal practitioners who have received legal training and have been called to the Nigerian bar as barristers and solicitors of the supreme court and mostly in active legal practice.
Lower Bench– as used in this discussion refer to members of the bench that administer justice in courts other than courts of records. Some of them are not qualified lawyers although the vast majority of them in Plateau State are now lawyers.
THE ROLE OF THE POLICE
The Nigerian Police is established and recognised under section 214 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) and the functions and duties expected of the police are spelt out in section 4 of the Police Act. The prosecutorial functions of the police are further spelt out in section 23 of the Police Act. In a nutshell, these laws give the police powers to detect, prevent, investigate, invite or arrest and detain for limited periods, suspected persons in the course of their investigations. Where the police is convinced, that there is sufficient evidence, they charge and prosecute the suspected offender before a competent court of law.
The law allows suspected persons access to a lawyer of their choice whenever they have encounter with the police. This is one development which unfortunately the police is not at home with and which most often brings them into conflict with lawyers. It is equally instructive to note that police prosecutors, especially the non-lawyers, only prosecute at the lower courts hence the bulk of the interactions between the police, lawyers and the members of the bench take place mostly at the lower bench.
Expectations of the law– the law established the various institutions that is the police, the lawyers and the bench and expects that they function for the purpose of proper administration of the criminal justice system. Though their functions may be in contradiction with one another, these functions are key in observance of the principles of the rule of law.
The society– the society on the other hand is inpatient with the police, the lawyers and members of the bench as they expect speedy trials, quick convictions or acquittals and more stringent punishment for convicts. However the slow pace of the administration of the criminal justice system has greatly impacted on the level of the confidence of the members of the public in all the three actors in this discussion. The public often understandably assume there is a conspiracy and connivance taking place among these three actors which in the long run puts each of them under avoidable pressure. This however depends on which side of the legal scale the observer finds himself.
LIMITATIONS IN THE PERFORMANCE OF THE FUNCTIONS
Several factors combine to limit the police in the performance of their functions. These include but not limited to:
- Poor funding
- Bureaucratic bottle necks
- Poor welfare and incentives
- Culture of impunity derived from long years of military rule
- Institutional factors
- Poor or inadequate training of personnel
- Absence of technological aids and tools
- Low self-esteem, etc.
HOW THE POLICE VIEW ISSUES PERTAINING TO ADMINISTRATION OF CRIMINAL JUSTICE
How the police view and perform their role– the police believe that they should be allowed to perform their duties without any interference from the other actors under discussion. Contrary to what the law stipulates, the police are often of the view that detecting and preventing crime is a tough endeavour.As a result, the police feel that when suspected criminals are identified and apprehended, intervention by lawyers and the lower bench in allowing these suspects back into society nullifies months of intensive and hard work on their part. For the police, the legal principle that an accused is innocent until proven guilty, and the understanding that it is better for 99 criminals to go scot-free than for one innocent citizen to be wrongly convicted is an abomination.
How the police view issues can broadly be treated under the following headings:
- Arrests– the police view this as a necessary step in setting the law in motion against an offender. In doing this, the police prefer to arrest before investigating due to several factors inhibiting its performance. At this stage, the police will rather have thing done their way, do their work without interference from lawyers. And of course, they are most often found wanting for violating provisions of the law.
- Investigation– the police who are lacking in modern technological tools to aid in the performance of their roles, consider any legal safeguard protecting a suspected person as an impediment.Hence, they expect to have a free hand in the conduct of their investigation.
- Detention– the police sees detention as a powerful means of securing cooperation and compliance from a suspect. They prefer using it to their advantage in spite of constitutional safeguards.
- Bail– the police take the issue of bail very seriously. As such, both at the level of police administrative bail and the court’s bail, the police would rather have a situation where anyone suspected and charged with an offence should be in custody until the final determination of the matter by the courts.
- Trial process– the police view this as a process that is slow and deliberately rigged to favourthe accused. Procedural issues pose great challenges to the police during trial of an accused. This includes procedural aspects that does not compel defence counsel to allow witnesses testify whenever they are available. In the long run, these witnesses (whom the police manage to persuade to appear in court) get discouraged,may overtime stop availing themselves, hence, the prosecution’s case suffers. The police consider this as a deliberate attempt or measure to frustrate their efforts.
- Release of exhibits– both investigation and prosecution of cases suffer set back once exhibits are released to the owner. Most often owners of exhibits deploy all manners of tricks including lobbying for its release.Once such exhibits are released, it becomes a challenge prosecuting a matter as these owners,who may also be witnesses, become reluctant in appearing in court to give the much required evidence in the prosecution’s case. The police will rather have a situation where they can hold on to exhibits as a means of securing the attendance of witnesses in court.
- Sentencing– the police view sentencing as a serious issue and often frown at a system and practice that provides discretion to the lower bench. They understandably thus have cause to frown in situations where the lower bench, in the exercise of its discretion, prefer to award negligible fines as to imprisonment or even give mitigated sentence instead of the maximum punishment notwithstanding that such a convict may be a first time offender. This makes it look as if all their hard work is worth so little. This view is without regards to the underlining principles guiding sentencing.
- Appeal– it is regrettable to note that police find it very difficult to appeal against any unfavourable judgment even in cases where it is extremely necessary to appeal due to institutional factors. The police view this issue as a helpless and frustrating situation.
RELATIONSHIP OF POLICE AND LAWYERS
Until recently, the relationship between the police and lawyers can best be described as frosty. However, the restoration of democratic governance has drastically improved the relationship even though much is still desired. It is expected that the coming into effect of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act would help to further improve the relationship.
RELATIONSHIP OF POLICE AND THE LOWER BENCH
The police actually sees the lower bench as a more friendly part of the bench because they are more readily accessible for the issuance of the necessary warrants, orders etc. which greatly assist the police in the performance of their duties. This makes the relationship between these two very cordial and robust.
RELATIONSHIP OF THE POLICE, LAWYERS AND THE LOWER BENCH
As earlier stated, the first point of joint contact between the police, lawyers and the bench take place mostly at the lower bench when a police First Information Report (FIR) is brought before the court.At this point, professionalism sets in and each of the actors is forced to be a professional, to do his part to the best of his ability and the dictates of his calling. Of the three ends of the triangle, the police may be disadvantaged when the prosecutor is not a lawyer, as he may feel intimidated by the defence and the bench, who may be lawyers. At this point, the police are at daggers drawn with the defence, as each hopes to be seen as having discharged his functions effectively. It will be wrong to conclude that they are adversaries as they are all set to achieve justice for the good of the society.
The police, lawyers and the lower bench are all very important components of the criminal justice administration system. They are all constantly under the scrutiny of the public eye as they perform different but complimentary roles in ensuring that justice takes place in the society. However, in spite of the expectations of members of the public, each of the three components should do their jobs professionally according to the dictates of their professions. While they may have conflict and confrontation in the course of the discharge of their duties, it is important for all to realise that there is nothing personal about such differences and each is duty bound to act to the best of his ability and in conformity with the law.