The Lagos Chapter of the Legal Aid Council of Nigeria (LACON), on Tuesday, underscored the need for the provision of Pro bono (free) legal services by lawyers; to foster justice administration and enhance a decongestion of the courts and corrections services.
The Lagos Coordinator of LACON, Mrs Temitope Akingbade told the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) that legal aid was a constitutional right and an important element in the Nigerian criminal jurisprudence.
According to Akingbade, both government and non-governmental agencies were established to render such free legal services.
NAN recalls that LACON had recently written to the Lagos State Commissioner of Police, requesting for a comprehensive list of all arrested post #EndSARS protesters.
The council had said that the body was properly poised to ensure free legal service delivery to citizens so as to promote the course of Justice.
“While x-raying the importance of legal services in a criminal proceeding, the need for access to free legal representation in criminal matters starts from the stage of investigation and arrest.
“Suspects under investigation must be promptly informed of the reason for their arrest, and such suspects have the right not to make any statement until they have spoken with their lawyer.
“Such suspects reserve the right to defend themselves by a legal practitioner of their choice, and where they have no lawyer, they must be informed of their right to be represented by the Legal Aid Council or any other Pro bono Legal Service provider,’’ she said.
Akingbade told NAN that a suspect was not to be detained beyond the period specified by law, must not be subjected to ill-treatment, and must not be compelled to make a self-incriminating statement.
According to her, such suspect is deemed innocent until proven guilty.
“Besides such suspect must be charged before a competent court of law within 24 to 48 hours of arrest or be admitted to bail, and given time and opportunity to defend himself.
“It is because of the complexity involved in laws and procedures in criminal matters, that the constitution has made provision for a right to free Legal service,’’ she said.
She said the importance of such free legal aid was to ensure that arrest, investigation, trial and sentencing be carried out lawfully, and no defendant suffered any prejudice because of lack of knowledge of the law or its procedures.
She stressed that the provision of free legal services protects and defends the rights of suspects or defendants and lead to fair hearings.
Akingbade said that fair hearing led to just determination of cases, free legal aid removed the delays occasioned by lack of a legal representation and also assists in decongesting the custodian correctional centres.
Speaking on the challenges facing the legal aid, Chief legal officer of LACON, Mrs Grace Adenubi, said that a major drawback faced by the council bordered on poor finance.
According to her, the council had not recorded many activities in 2020, following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic and consequential lockdown, which covered a better part of the year, adding that all hands are still on deck.
On the source of funding of the Legal aid, she said, “we are being funded by the Federal Government, but a major challenge still facing the council is poor funding’’.
Adenubi said that although the legal aid was allowed to accept grants from states, private donors etc, it still remained underfunded.