The Committee against Torture (CAT), a United Nations entity, has poked holes in the implementation of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, saying there are “numerous shortcomings” in the implementation of the fundamental safeguards secured by the Act.

In its latest report on torture in Nigeria, the Committee commended the enactment of the legislation, but decried poor implementation which has made the realization of its safeguards a pipe dream.

According to CAT, “While welcoming the State party’s enactment of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act and its commitment to continue strengthening the justice system made during the universal periodic review (see A/HRC/40/7/Add.1), the Committee is concerned that despite the existing legal provisions, the implementation of fundamental safeguards is subject to numerous shortcomings.”

The Committee listed the implementation challenges to include: many instances in which persons are held in police custody beyond the legal time limit of 24 or 48 hours (in contravention to the section 35 of the Constitution and section 62 of the Police Act); the allegations of arbitrary arrests and incommunicado detentions without any contact with the relative or person of their choice and the absence of systematic and consistent use of registers of persons deprived of liberty at all stages of detention and details thereof, and the reports that the arrested persons do not receive routinely information about the reason of arrest and about their rights, including the right to legal representation.

Others are the fact that legal aid is difficult to obtain in practice, despite the establishment of the Legal Aid Council of Nigeria with its underfunded offices in all thirty-six states; the lack of routine audio or video recording of the questioning during the investigation in police custody despite a specific requirement provided for in law, and the absence of an independent medical examination from the outset of detention (art. 2).

The Committee then urged the Federal Government to: Ensure the right of detainees to be brought promptly before a judge, or to be freed, and to challenge the legality of their detention at any stage of the proceedings; Ensure that persons have their deprivation of liberty accurately recorded in registers at all stages of the proceedings and ensure their right to inform a relative or another person of their choice of their arrest or detention, and Ensure that arrested and detained persons are informed immediately of the accusations and charges against them and that they are able to have prompt access to a lawyer or to free legal aid throughout the proceedings, including during the initial interrogation and inquiry, in line with the Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers and the United Nations Principles and Guidelines on Access to Legal Aid in Criminal Justice Systems.

The Federal Government is also to: Provide the human and financial resources needed to ensure the proper functioning of all local branches of the Legal Aid Council; Ensure that the questioning of persons deprived of their liberty is video recorded, that those recordings are stored in a safe place under the control of oversight bodies and that the recordings are made available to investigators, detainees and their lawyers; Provide necessary technical and financial support to the police stations to facilitate the implementation of this recommendation, and Ensure that detainees have the right to request and obtain medical examination by an independent physician or a physician of their choice and that such medical examination is available without conditions and in full confidentiality promptly upon arrival at a police station, detention centre or prison.

The government is again urged to provide adequate and regular training on relevant legal provisions, monitor the compliance and penalize any failure on the part of officials to comply.

The Committee against Torture is a United Nations body of independent experts that monitors implementation of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment by its State parties. The Committee against Torture is composed of 10 independent experts who are persons of high moral character and recognized competence in the field of human rights. The Committee is currently chaired by Mr. Claude Heller.

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