Politics

Stakeholders call for repositioning of Police Duty Solicitor Scheme

Stakeholders have called for the repositioning of the Police Duty Solicitor Scheme (PDSS) so that Nigerians everywhere in the country can effectively access justice.

The call was made at a stakeholder meeting at the weekend in Abuja to commemorate International Human Rights Day.

Experts at the occasion called for renewed understanding among police officers on how the PDSS supports the police from investigation to court appearance.

Those who spoke at the event include the former Inspector General of Police and Chairman, Police Service Commission, Solomon Arase; Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Lateef Fagbemi, SAN; Director General, Legal Aid Council of Nigeria, Aliyu Abubakar; and Project Manager, Criminal Justice Reform, Rule of Law, and Anti-Corruption (RoLAC Phase II) Programme, Dr Oluwatoyin Badejogbin, among others.

The event, which marked the end of the 16 Days of Activism against Sexual and Gender-Based Violence 2023, was organised by the European Union-funded Rule of Law and Anti-Corruption Programme of the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International IDEA) in collaboration with the Legal Aid Council of Nigeria, LACON.

In his opening remarks, the Director General of the Legal Aid Council of Nigeria, Aliyu Abubakar, highlighted the benefits of the scheme, which include fostering community policing, strengthening service delivery by the police, and increasing protection and promotion of the legal and human rights of suspects and detainees, among others.

He asked for cooperation from the police hierarchy ahead of rolling out the scheme nationwide.

Delivering his keynote address, Arase noted that the introduction of the PDSS, in response to the imperative outlined in the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA), was a watershed moment in the commitment to safeguard the rights of individuals in police custody.

According to the Police Service Commission boss, the gains achieved through the PDSS have been transformative, not only in principle but in tangible, life-changing ways.

He, however, called for a more comprehensive and integrated approach that addresses systemic issues within the country’s criminal justice system.

He said: “Historically, detainees faced prolonged periods in police facilities without access to legal representation, leading to routine violations of their rights. The PDSS, driven by a commitment to justice, has become a mechanism through which lawyers provide free legal services to detainees across Nigeria, ensuring that their rights are not only protected on paper but upheld in practice.

“While the success of the PDSS is evident in specific regions, there is a need for widespread replication and adoption. The lessons learned in Anambra, Edo, FCT, and Lagos should serve as a blueprint for other states, fostering a culture of legal responsibility and collaboration that transcends regional boundaries.”

On his part, the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Lateef Fagbemi, represented by Gladys Odigbaro, Director of Solicitor Department, Federal Ministry of Justice, pointed out that the enforcement of Force Order 20 and other relevant provisions of the Administration and Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) are commendable milestones in the concerted efforts to address the crisis of arbitrary, irrational, and interminable pretrial (awaiting trial) detentions in the country.

He noted that the scheme also comes with the advantage of preventing undue congestion of inmates in correctional facilities, with the consequential benefit of saving the government the resources required to maintain a large population of inmates or detainees.

The Inspector General of Police, Kayode Egbetokun, who was represented by AIG Shehu Gwarzo, said the Police Duty Solicitor Scheme, as captured by Force Order 20, aims to contribute to the realisation of the ongoing reform programme of his administration.

He said: “Force Order 20 addresses free legal services for arrested or detained persons in police formations’ and institutes the PDSS as a country-wide mechanism for its delivery. It expands the provision of legal services in police stations by ensuring prompt access to duty solicitors for suspects. It implements the constitutional promise of access to counsel in police stations in Nigeria.”

On what informed the event, Dr Oluwatoyin Badejogbin, Project Manager, Criminal Justice Reform, Rule of Law, and Anti-Corruption (Phase II) Programme of International IDEA, said it was aimed at establishing the renewed commitment of the IGP to grant duty solicitors access to police detention centres. He said it also aimed at initiating renewed understanding among policemen on how the PDSS supports the police force from investigation to court appearance.

Police spokespersons from the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) were among the participants at the event.