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Tough bail conditions fuel prison congestion– lawyers

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LAGOS- Some lawyers have blamed prison congestion in Nigeria on stringent bail conditions.

The lawyers spoke with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Lagos on Friday.

A Lagos-based lawyer and social critic, Mr Spurgeon Ataene, said that the rate of prison congestion should compel courts to review bail conditions.

He noted that the Nigeria Correctional Service had repeatedly decried congestion of prisons across states of the federation.

“The development brings to mind indiscriminate incarceration of persons for minor offences.

“Stringent bail terms such as provision of civil servants landed property owners, community leaders or people in blue chip companies as sureties are responsible for the situation we see today.

“Magistrates and judges should not take undue delight in ensuring that minor offenders remain in custody.

“I call on the chief judge of Lagos State to send a circular to all the courts to decongest the facilities by accepting relatives as sureties.

“The duty of the surety is to ensure their attendance in court when required,’’ he said.

Ataene added that prosecutors should stop unnecessary objections to bail.

“The same goes to the directorate of public prosecutions, while state counsel should be properly guided,” he said

Another Lagos-based lawyer, Mrs Francisca Madu, urged that conditions for bail should be flexible so as to prevent overcrowding at the remand centres.

“Although remand of suspects pending bail has the backing of the law, it is my opinion that bail terms should not be made onerous.

“It is important for all judicial officers to note that bail is a constitutional right of a defendant which should not be denied, apart from in capital offences.

“If difficult conditions are imposed, it simply opens the floodgates to paid sureties which attract the issue of fake documents,” she said.

The Convener of the Advocacy for Justice and Accountability, Mr Ogedi Ogu, also told NAN that imposition of stringent bail conditions by some magistrates and judges contributed much to prison congestion.

“Now, some magistrates have even taken it further by insisting that a surety must be a close relative who must produce a photograph taken together with the accused person.

“They also insist that such a relative must be working in a reputable or blue chip company.

“I honestly do not think that the judiciary especially in Lagos State is ready for prison decongestion,” he said.

Ogu urged that stringent bail conditions should be jettisoned as a strategy to decongest custodial facilities.

“The courts must look inwards and find a way out.

“Judges and magistrates must deem it fit to allow people in self-employment to stand as sureties because continued insistence on ‘reputable company’ is an onerous condition,” he said

According to Ogu, presumption of innocence of a defendant is constitutional and the judiciary must uphold it. (NAN)