25 September 2018

Nigerian Lawyers vs Police Officers

The general duties of the police as provided by Section (4) of the Police Act is the prevention and detection of crime; apprehension of offenders; preservation of law and order; protection of life and property; and due enforcement of all laws and regulations with which they are directly charged. The resultant effect of the general duties of the police is the detention of suspects in police custody.

According to Section 28(2) Kaduna State Administration of Criminal Justice Law, (2017), a police officer making an arrest shall inform the suspect of his right to remain silent, or avoid answering any question until after consultation with a legal professional or any other person of his own choice; a suspect also has the right to consult a legal professional of his choice before endorsing or writing any statement, or answering any question put to him after arrest.

Sadly, in Nigeria when a suspect is in police custody, and a legal representative appears on behalf of the suspect, the investigative police officer handling the case on seeing a lawyer becomes hostile, and then frustrates the suspect in custody with the aim of diminishing the services of a legal professional. Democracy thrives in an environment lawyers and police work hand - hand in accordance with the dictate of the law of the land devoid of acrimony.

Which begs the question; to what extent can a lawyer provide legal services to a client in police custody? In the Nigerian legal system, there are basically two ways of securing the release of a suspect from police custody in Nigeria, {i} apply for police bail at the police station, or {ii} the matter be charged to a court of competent jurisdiction, and then apply for court bail when the accused take his plea. However what is obtainable in our police station, a suspect in detention is threatened by the police with court, when a lawyer then appears at the police station on behalf of the suspect, and asks that the matter be charged to court, an excuse clothed with 'investigation of the offence is still ongoing' is used to deprive the suspect of his release.

"The role of lawyers at the police station seems to be fading away day by day, nowadays we find police officers chase away a lawyer from the station, denying him access to his client. The import of this is that clients begin to feel there is nothing much a lawyer can do for a suspect in police custody, which in turn leads to police taking the brief of a legal professional" Fumen Isaac Gandu, Esq (Chairman NBA young lawyers forum, Kaduna)

In the field of justice, legal professionals and police officers ought to be team mates, not opposition; it is only through synergy between both parties that fundamental human rights of Nigerians as enshrined in the constitution can be guaranteed. Ordinarily, investigation of crime and apprehension of offenders ought not to be a money making machine, but in Nigeria we find either the complainant or the suspect paying for the investigation of the crime reported.

To my mind, the Nigerian Bar Association has an obligation to protect its members (Nigerian lawyers) from the continued harassment of police officers at the police station. There should be partnership of both parties to carry out a massive national sensitization and awareness to police officers on the Administration of Criminal Justice Act.

Police officers ought to understand that because a lawyer comes to the station with a white T.M Lewin shirt, and black Italian suit, does not mean he is geared up for battle (https://www.tmlewin.co.uk). The police station ought not to be a battle ground for lawyers and police; rather it should be the centre of promoting peace and justice in the society.

It is the duty of both the lawyer, and police to protect the interest of Nigerian citizens, and so, when both elephants are fighting over ego, and who is right, the suspect in custody suffers. Laws are not passed by the national assembly to become mere text book, they are passed to be binding, enforced and implemented by all players involved. In the same vein, the Nigerian police officers should not violate the law by acting contrary to what is provided in the Act.

God speed!


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