There’s been some scaremongering of late in the wake of the passing of the Police Bill 2020 into Law. In as much as I appreciate the critics of the Bill I’ll exercise caution as to avoid throwing the baby out with the bath water.
No legislation is perfect in wording in our clime and the Devil is always in the detail. We as an organization (Social Intervention Advocacy Foundation — SIAF or PLAC as well as other stakeholders) could have done better, however, in the wording of the Bill, if given the opportunity to critique the final document before presentation to the presidency for assent. Though issues raised here are more of semantics than actual interpretation of the Law.
The UK Government that contributed to this via PLAC (Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre) are not stupid neither is SIAF, that handled the public advocacy for the facilitation of the Bill for free. It remains a step in the right direction. In the words of the Rt. Hon Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila, this is not cast in stone and will continue to be tweaked to mirror our society in the here and now. The Laws are guides at best, while the courts give interpretation.
The Act comes with innovations every Nigerian should know. Spare a minute or two to go through them:
The general objective of the Act is to provide an effective police service that complies with the principles of accountability and transparency, protect human rights and freedom. See Section 1.
2. The duty of the Police is to prevent and detect crimes, protect the rights and freedom of suspects and non-suspects in accordance with the Constitution, the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights and any other law. See Sec. 4 (a).
3. Just like in the movies, Nigeria can now have private detectives who are not employed by the government. The Nigeria Police Force is responsible for vetting and approving the registration of Private Detective Schools and Private Investigative Outfits. See Sec. 4(i).
4. The Police is mandated to report the findings of its investigation to the Attorney General of the Federation or State as the case may be. See Sec. 32(1).
5. The Act prohibits the Police from arresting anyone based on a civil wrong or breach of contract. See Sec. 32(2).
6. The Act equally prohibits the arrest of any person in place of a suspect. See Sec. 36. (This corroborate ACJA 2015 Provision).
7. Adoption of Miranda Warning — The Act makes it mandatory on the police officer or any other person authorized to effect an arrest to inform the suspect his rights to:
i. remain silent or avoid answering any question until after consultation with a legal practitioner or any other person of his own choice. See Sec. 35(2)(a).
ii. consult a legal practitioner of his own choice before making, endorsing or writing any statement or answering any question put to him after the arrest. See Sec. 35(2)(b).
iii. free legal representation by the Legal Aid Council of Nigeria or other organizations where applicable. See Sec. 35(2)(c).
8. The Act also makes it mandatory on the Police to notify the next of kin or relative(s) of the suspect immediately after the arrest of the suspect. See Sec. 35(3).
9. A suspect shall be accorded humane treatment. And a suspect shall not be subjected to torture, cruelty, inhumane or degrading treatment. See Sec. 37.
10. The statement of a suspect can be taken only when he wishes to make a statement. See sec. 60(1).
11. The statement, where the suspect wishes to make one, MAY be taken in the presence of a legal practitioner or any other person or organization of his own choice. See sec. 60(2).
12. Where a suspect is arrested and detained for more than 24 hours, if the offence he was arrested for is not a capital offence, his lawyer or relatives can notify any court that has jurisdiction to try the matter about his arrest. See sec. 64(1).
13. The notification can be made in writing or orally. See sec. 64(3).
14. The court SHALL order the production of the suspect and inquire into the matter. Where it is convinced that the suspect should be released on bail, the court shall admit him to bail.
15. The Police are mandated to take the photographs and fingerprint impressions of all suspects who are in lawful custody. See sec. 68(1).
16. Where a suspect refuses to allow the Police to take his measurements, photograph and fingerprint impressions, the Police have the right to apply to court compel the suspect to submit himself. See sec. 68(2).
17. On the last working day of every month, an officer in charge of a police station must report to the nearest magistrates the cases of all arrests made without warrant in his jurisdiction, whether the suspect have been admitted to bail or not. See sec. 69(1).
18. By section 66(1) of the Police Act 2020, ONLY a Police Officer who is a LEGAL PRACTITIONER, can prosecute. Section 23 which hitherto gave non-Police lawyers prosecutorial powers no longer hold any potency in law, the entire old Police Act,cap P.19,LFN,2004, having been REPEALED by the Police Act, 2020 recently ASSENTED to by Mr. President.
In effect, any prosecution by a non-Police lawyer is null and void, and of no effect whatsoever — by virtue of section 66(1) of the Act(supra).
Thus, it’s a legal ground for objectiong to any prosecution being conducted by a Police Officer who is NOT a LEGAL PRACTITIONER.
These are some of the high points of the the new Police Act 2020.