Anambra State Justice Ministry Unveils Plea Bargain Manual

…Commences Operation as Alternative to Criminal Trial Cases

By Chioma Ndife and Ifeoma Ogbodo

The Anambra State Ministry of Justice has developed and unveiled a manual known as ‘The Anambra State Ministry of Justice Plea Bargain Manual’ to serve as an alternative in trial of criminal cases and assist in speeding up justice delivery.

The manual which was unveiled last Wednesday, 22 September, at Best Western Meloch Hotel, was carried out in collaboration with the Rule of law and Anti-Corruption Programme (ROLAC) of the European Union as implemented by the British Council.

Speaking at the occasion, the State Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Anambra State, Dr. Obianuju Nwogu, stated that the Plea Bargain Manual was relevant as it would help to fasten criminal justice administration and decongest prisons, noting that the manual provided practical information about what plea bargain entailed.

She said the procedure for applying and general information would make the process less complicated for all stakeholders.

‘The Plea Bargain Manual lays down the framework for the operation of the Plea Bargain. Plea Bargain is the process whereby the defendant or defence counsel and the prosecutor enter into negotiations to agree a mutually acceptable way of disposing a criminal case.               In all, the Plea Bargain Manual promises to be a veritable tool in the hands of lawyers and litigants as a guide to be able to take advantage of this novel provision of our law in deserving cases,’ she said.

Announcing the Flag-off of the operations of Plea bargain, Dr. Nwogu explained that there had been adequate sensitization to ensure a widespread awareness and disclosed that the Plea Bargain Committee had already been set up to comprise select law officers in the Ministry of Justice, chaired by the Director of Public Prosecutions.

The Attorney General revealed that Lagos State was the first State in Nigeria to have implemented and Enforced Plea Bargain, while Anambra State was the second state in Nigeria to follow suit, as well as being the first Southeastern state to have embraced Plea Bargain. She noted that some of the members of the committee had been sponsored on a tour to the Lagos State Ministry of Justice to understudy their practice and the operation of Plea Bargain process in Lagos, and expressed optimism that those involved would bring the experience home to ensure effective implementation of the process.

On the effective and efficient operation of the Committee, Dr. Nwogu disclosed that the committee had embarked on aggressive sensitization of the stakeholders in the Criminal Justice System as they had sent delegations to all the eight NBA bar branches in the state to create awareness of the Plea Bargain provisions and visited the four correctional centres in the state to sensitize the inmates on the availability of Plea Bargain Option and the need to take advantage of it.

Contributing, a professor of Law and the Director of Special Projects and Alternative Dispute Resolutions (ADR), Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Prof. Ken Nwogu, underscored the importance of the manual, noting that Plea Bargain was a new concept in the administration of criminal Justice.

He disclosed that the essence of Plea Bargaining was to assist where an accused person or defendant alleged to have committed an offence admitted to have committed the crime, saying that with the admittance of the crime, the prosecutor was bound under the principle of Plea Bargaining to accept the confession, reduce the punishment and save the agony of trial.

Prof. Nwogu who was the former Dean of the Faculty of Law and Student Affairs of Nnamdi Azikiwe University, explained that Plea Bargaining helped to give a fair judgment to the administration of criminal justice.

Contributing, the Controller of Correctional Services, Anambra State Command, Mr. Pat Chukwuemeka, noted that Plea Bargain would help defendants have a new way of resolving their cases before the court of justice without having to spend greater part of their lives in prison.

He described the operations of Plea Bargaining as a welcome development, noting that it would help to decongest the prisons and reduce the army of awaiting trial inmates in custody, saying that because after application of a plea Bargain agreement, the gravity of an offense would be minimal.

‘With the operation of Plea Bargain, especially in a situation whereby an offender is supposed to spend five years in jail, with Plea Bargain in place, it might be reduced to three years. I believe that Plea Bargain would add value to society by addressing everything that concerns the offender, the victim as well as society,’ he explained.