The Prison Fellowship Nigeria in collaboration with the Lagos State Ministry of Justice is designing a Restorative Justice (RJ) Project in collaboration with other stakeholders in the criminal justice sector. The objectives of the Project, inter alia, are to: reduce recidivism, increase victim satisfaction, strengthen communities, reduce incarceration and increase public confidence in the justice system.
Key Highlights of the Restorative Justice Project include:
- Memorandum of Understanding and collaboration has been signed with the Lagos State Ministry of Justice.
- There will be three pilot centers located at (i) A Divisional Police Station; (ii) Prison; (iii) and a cluster of Magistrate Courts, which includes Family court.
- Eligible cases in line with an already drawn up Protocol will be diverted to restorative program.
- Training of Restorative Justice Practitioners to provide services at the Pilot Centers.
- Training of officers of participating criminal justice agencies.
- The Pilot Centers will handle both pre-charge and post charge and post-conviction cases as appropriate.
- Evaluation of the operations of the Pilot Centers.
- Drafting and processing of a Restorative Justice Bill or amendment of existing laws to institutionalize the Restorative Justice Program.
The Prison Fellowship Nigeria hosted a one day sensitization workshop on the theme: “The Healing Face of Justice” on the 21st of October, at the Prison Training College, Kirikiri, Apapa, Lagos.
This workshop was organized pursuant to the Lagos State Restorative Justice Project, spearheaded by the PFN. This workshop was held as a precursor to sensitization and survey of inmates in Ikoyi Prison, Maximum, Female and Medium security Prisons in Kirikiri, Lagos and, the full blown restorative Justice Pilot Project in Lagos State, consonant with the Project’s Memorandum of Understanding and Logical Frame work.
The purpose of the workshop is to sensitize the Prison Officers on the importance and benefits of Restorative Justice, including Victim/ Offender Mediation. Since Prison Officers are key to the eventual implementation and smooth running of the RJ project, it is imperative to carry them along and make them appreciate and participate in the project when it eventually kicks off.
Participants at the Workshop included representatives of the Deputy Controller of Prisons, Deputy Controller of Prisons in charge of Kirikiri Maximum Security Prison, Deputy Controller of Prisons in charge of Kirikiri Medium Security Prison, Deputy Controller of Prisons in charge of Kirikiri Female Prison; Prison officers, Members of Prison Fellowship Nigeria, Members of Lagos State Restorative Justice Steering Committee and members of the press.
The lead lecture was delivered by Dr. Akeem Bello of the Department of Public Law. Faculty of Law, University of Lagos, on the Topic: “The Justice Need of the Accused, Complainant and the Society” while Dr. (Mrs.) Comfort C. Ani of the Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, Lagos moderated the workshop.
After the lecture, participants welcomed the idea of restorative justice.
During the break out session, the participants brainstormed and came up with robust and practical recommendations that will move RJ project forward. Robust comments were also made during the plenary session.
Observations flowing from the lecture are as follows:
- There are three principal parties interested in the outcome of the criminal trial viz: the accused, the complainant/victim and the society. The interest of the parties in the outcome of criminal proceedings is often conflicting.
- The society is interested in the conviction and punishment of person found to have violated the criminal laws. While the complainant is also interested in conviction and punishment, the complainant often has other legitimate interest such as restitution and compensation for the wrong suffered.
- Retributive justice focuses on punishing the offender for violating the criminal laws principally by imprisonment. There is no attempt to resolve the conflict generated by the crime and restore relationship between the offender and the victim.
- Criminal proceedings are adversarial in nature with each party engaged in trying to outwit the order and employing every technicality in the books. The complainant often play a residual role as the defendant and the State are the principal parties to the dispute.
- The interests and concerns of complainant are often not adequately addressed or protected. Restorative justice is a way of responding to criminal behavior by balancing the needs of the community, the victims and the offenders.
- There are many terms that are used to describe the restorative justice approach. These include “communitarian justice”, “making amends”, “positive justice”, “relational justice”, “reparative justice” and “community justice.
- Restorative justice involve the victim and the offender, and, where appropriate, any other individuals or community members affected by a crime, participating together actively in the resolution of matters arising from the crime, generally with the help of a facilitator.
- Where the matter is resolved, an agreement is reached. The agreement may include referrals to programmes such as reparation, restitution and community services, “aimed at meeting the individual and collective needs and responsibilities of the parties and achieving the reintegration of the victim and the offender”. It may also be combined with other measures in cases involving serious offences.
- RJ involves a response to crime that respects the dignity and equality of each person, builds understanding and promotes social harmony through the healing of victims, offenders and communities.
- The legal framework for Restorative Justice in Lagos State includes:
- Section 15(2) and (3) of the Criminal Law of Lagos State 2011 empowers the courts to order compensation. Restitution, community service orders, probation, curfew orders, binding-over orders, rehabilitation and correctional orders, victim offender mediation and other restorative justice measures in addition to or in lieu of any punishment which may be imposed.
- The provision of the section 15(2)&(3) contemplate a court connected restorative justice approach after conviction.
- Where criminal charges have not be instituted restorative justice measures can be utilized for misdemeanor and simple offences as the law allows parties to compound and settle criminal cases that are not felonies. These cases are therefore open to restorative justice approach
The following recommendations were made by participants:
- Training on RJ should not be limited but should be extended to other institutions and people outside the prison.
- The LGA’s, CDA’s and community leaders should all be part of the project.
- The judiciary should be made the central point of the project.
- The police stations should be the pilot place for application of the RJ. The OC Legal as a member of the RJ Committee should help to sensitize the police on the project.
- The role of the lawyers on the project is very important. There is need for proper awareness in this regard, therefore, the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA)should be a stakeholder on the RJ Project.
- Lawyers are to encourage their clients to take part in restorative justice instead of the current practice of advising their clients to plead not guilty in all cases.
- Victims compensation fund should be instituted as part of the program to help in payment of compensation
- The project should be a continuous one.
- Two points of entry in the RJ project should be at the community/police level and after the matter has been charged to the court.
- RJ should be an alternative not a replacement of criminal litigation. Not every matter has to go through the full criminal process.
- The unfortunate situation where parties are ready to settle but third parties such as police prosecutor or legal officer stops the settlement gesture because they claim that the matter is against the state, should be addressed.
- Since there are already existing Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) system and basic provisions in Administration Of Criminal Justice Law of Lagos State,2011; there is need to sensitize everyone on this option, which complainants will like to avail themselves of, if they are aware of it.
Barr. Benson Ngozi Iwuagwu.
Prison Fellowship Nigeria, on behalf of Workshop participants.
Given at Kirikiri Prisons, Lagos, Nigeria.
On the 21st Day of October, 2015