Through CAPIO’s legal advocacy programme, indigent prisoners who cannot afford the services of defense attorneys are provided free legal representation in court. The case of Mr. Ekenechukwu Ani is just one of numerous pathetic cases encountered in the course of CAPIO’s legal advocacy. Mr. Ekene was 26 when he was arrested for the murder of his uncle. Being the sole breadwinner of his family prior to his arrest, he was left languishing in prison without trial for 12 years, as his family could not afford the services of a Lawyer. On the 15th of March 2018, CAPIO’s legal team applied for the case to be struck out and the accused discharged, on grounds of lack of diligent prosecution of the case. The court granted the application and the accused was released from prison after 13 years. At the time of his release, the accused was 39.
To highlight the importance of CAPIO’s fight to improve criminal justice delivery in Enugu State, it is important to note that the 1999 constitution of Nigeria provides that a person accused of an offence should be tried within a reasonable time, failing which he shall be released conditionally or released pending his trial in court. The constitution also provides that a person charged with an offence is entitled to fair hearing in court within a reasonable time. Trial within a reasonable time have been interpreted by the courts to mean commencement of trial within 2-3 months after the arrest of a suspect. Notwithstanding the above position of the law, majority of inmates in prison have been awaiting trial for as long as ten years, and in some cases, with little hope of having their cases prosecuted in courts. This is not only contrary to the provisions of the constitution as highlighted above, but is also contrary to their fundamental right to liberty. It is noteworthy that the Administration of Criminal Justice Law has made innovative provisions to ensure that accused persons are charged to courts within limited periods after their arrest. The law also made provisions for the duration of trial for different categories of offence. For capital offences, trial must not exceed a total period of 540 days. For lesser offences, trial must not exceed a total number of 360 days and 180 days. Implementation of the ACJ Law in Enugu State will significantly curb this age long practice of dumping indigent offenders in prison without trial.