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Justice Yetunde Adesanya of the Lagos State Judiciary on Monday urged that application of plea bargain concept in criminal jurisprudence must promote justice and serve public interest.
Adesanya also said that plea bargain could apply to all offences and be initiated by the prosecution or defendant.
The judge spoke at a media workshop on plea bargain organised in Lagos by the Rule of Law and Anti-Corruption (RoLAC).
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that plea bargain is a negotiated agreement between a prosecutor and a defendant, whereby the defendant pleads guilty to a lesser offence or to one of multiple charges, in exchange for some concession by prosecution.
This is usually in exchange for a more lenient sentence or dismissal of the other charges.
Adesanya said that Section 75 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Law of Lagos State, 2011, was the first legislation to import and localise plea bargain into Nigeria’s criminal jurisprudence.
She also noted that Section 270 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015, set out elaborate provisions for the plea bargain procedure in the federal courts.
According to her, the courts must ensure that both public interest and the course of justice are served in the process leading to plea bargain agreement.
The judge advised that service to public interest and course of justice should be reflected in plea bargain terms.
She said this would be achieved through the plea bargain protocol, plea bargain agreement checklist, considerations for authenticating and approving the agreement, application of the sentencing guidelines and the Lagos State Administration of Criminal Justice (Practice Direction) 2019.
“After arraignment, the court shall inform parties and counsel, in general terms, of the plea bargain provisions as contained under the law.
“The presiding judge or magistrate shall adjourn the case for not more than 30 days to enable the parties to consider same and report their decision with respect to the plea bargain option,” she said.
Adesanya said that the rationale for putting this immediately after arraignment in the proposed practice direction was to draw the attention of the parties, at the earliest possible opportunity, to the options available, whether to opt for trial or plea bargain.
She added that the agreement should be entered into with due regards to the nature and circumstances relating to the offence, the defendant and the interest of the community.
“Where a plea bargain agreement is reached by the prosecution and defence, the prosecution would usually file an amended information or charge; the plea of the defendant is taken and, typically, he would plead guilty to the amended charge.
“The prosecution shall inform the court that parties have reached an agreement; the court will then confirm from the defendant.
“The court will inquire if the defendant admits the allegations to which he had pleaded guilty and whether he entered into the agreement voluntarily and without undue influence,” she said.
According to her, the Lagos State Judiciary has put together a plea bargain agreement checklist essentially for the protection of defendants who have taken the plea bargain option.
Adesanya said that plea bargain is a veritable tool in the administration of criminal justice in most developed jurisprudence such as UK U.S., Canada, and Nigeria.
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