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Rights of pre-trial detainees in Nigeria

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Who is a pre-trial detainee?

A pre-trial detainee is a defendant who is held before trial on criminal charges either because their bail was not posted, or because their bail was denied.

The difference between a pre-trial detainee and a prisoner is that the former has not been convicted (found guilty) in law while the latter is convicted and sentenced already.

 The Administration of Criminal Justice Act of 2015 defines a suspect as a person who has been arrested on the suspicion of committing any offence, and who is yet to be formally charged for that offence.

As a pre-trial detainee who has been arrested and detained, you are entitled to certain rights. Upon arrest or detention, your freedom of movement may be deprived.

THE RIGHTS OF PRE-TRIAL DETAINEES OR SUSPECTS

 According to the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria:

  • Right to Life – no one shall be deprived intentionally of their life, except in execution of a court sentence in respect of a criminal offence of which they have been found guilty in Nigeria

  • Right to dignity of person – On no account should pre-trial detainees be tortured or be subject to inhumane or degrading treatment. Also, they cannot be subjected to forced labour.

  • The right to remain silent – Any person who is arrested or detained shall have the right to remain silent or avoid answering any question until after consultation with a legal practitioner or any other person of his own choice.

  • The right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty – Every person who is charged with a criminal offence shall be presumed to be innocent until he is proved guilty.

  • The right to adequate time and facilities to prepare for his Defence –In cases where bail is denied due to the nature of offence, the pre-trial detainee must be allowed adequate time and facilities to prepare for his defence. This includes having pre-trial interviews between you and your lawyer, freely engaging in processes that will aid your case in the court of law.

  • The right to defend himself or be represented by counsel during trial – You can defend yourself but it is best to be represented by a lawyer because you are not knowledgeable about law and thus do not know how to conduct yourself in court.

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Barriers to the excercise of the rights of pre-trial detainees

You may encounter issues in the exercise of the rights listed above. Some of them include:

Impunity: The law enforcement agents that have effected your detention may not fulfil or respect to your rights. However, if your rights have been violated by them, you can choose to take the matter to court. For more information, check the guide on Fundamental Rights Enforcement Procedure.

Prolonged detention of pre-trial detainees: In many countries including Nigeria, pre-trial detainees constitute the majority of those in prison as a result of long delays in their trials,  inadequate finance to pursue their cases, or to hire a lawyer, or other bottlenecks in the criminal justice system.

Monetary challenges: the cost of litigation is often high. Affording a good lawyer to represent you is often very expensive. While the law provides for pro-bono representation for indigent suspects, the service may vary.

For more information on how to get legal services if you are facing monetary challenges, check Legal Aid and Access to Justice in this guide.

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