15 February 2010

Nigeria: Senate to Hold Public Hearing On Evidence Act

Abuja — A bill to permit admissibility of electronic and computer generated evidence, which scale the second reading in the Senate on September 29, last year, will this morning be subjected to a public hearing to receive stakeholders' input.

Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters, to which the Bill was referred for further legislative action, is the convener of the public hearing, which would be declared open by the Senate President, David Mark.

Input by stakeholders at today's hearing are expected to enhance parts, if not all of the proposed amendments to the 65-year old Evidence Act contained in a Bill sponsored by the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Drugs, Narcotics, Financial Crimes and Anti-Corruption, Sola Akinyede (PDP, Ekiti South).

The bill titled, "A bill for an Act to Amend the Evidence Act," (to permit admissibility of Electronic and Computer Generated Evidence), went through first reading (the short title) on Tuesday, July 7, 2009 while the second reading (debate on the general principles) followed on September 29, 2009.

Akinyede, had in his lead debate, argued that the amendment to the Act would help to renew confidence in the Nigerian judicial system especially by foreign investors, adding that "Nigeria needs to take advantage of the advancement in technology to bolster the cause of justice."

He stated, "Since all banks now use computer print-outs as bank statements, the reason to amend the Evidence Act has become more compelling owing to the fact that, there will be a large number of cases of recovery of debts under the Failed Banks (Recovery of Debts) and Financial Malpractices in Banks Act Cap F2 LFN 2004."

Akinyede also said that there would be other criminal cases resulting from the "recent action of the Central Bank of Nigeria in trying to stave off the loss of confidence and crisis in the banking industry."

He noted, "Since the Evidence Act was enacted 64 years ago (as of 2009), apart from some minor amendments effected between 1948 and 1958, and another minor amendment in 1991, the Act has remained unchanged."

Chairman of the Senate Services Committee, Effiong Bob (PDP, Akwa Ibom Northeast) said, during the debate, that the amendment of Evidence Act was long overdue.

According to him, "If you look at electronic evidence generated from, let's say, CCTV camera that is being installed everywhere in houses and offices, how do you tender such evidence in Court in Nigeria? There is no provision in the existing Act; so, it has become a problem to prove crimes committed in Court."

Deputy Senate Leader, Victor Ndoma-Egba (SAN) (PDP, Cross River Central) said: "The Act, as it is today, has remained stagnant while technology has moved on to a point where the Act could not have contemplated. Today if you tender a photograph in our Courts under the Evidence Act, you are still expected to do so with the negative.

"Meanwhile, photography has moved to a point where negatives have been dispensed with. The law as it is today certainly cannot deliver justice."

Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu underscored the imperative of the amendment of the Evidence Act, saying: "I also believe that now that we are talking about a reform of our electoral system, it is apt that we also deal with this issue of an amendment of the Evidence Act to accommodate such issues that will arise including e-voting."

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