Epunchng - Most read newspaper in Nigeria Thursday, December 7, 2017 - Page 39

LAW DIGEST THURSDAY, DECEMBER 7, 2017 • CASE REVIEW • COURT/LAW DIARY • BAR/BENCH NEWS... 39 0800073900 Government should stop employers from discriminating against ex-prisoners – Iwuagwu Mr. Benson Iwuagwu is the Executive Director of Prison Fellowship Nigeria. In this interview with OLADIMEJI RAMON, he speaks on the objective of the organisation and the motive behind its campaign for restorative justice W HAT is the idea behind the founding and activities of Prison Fellowship Nigeria? Prison Fellowship Nigeria is essentially a faith-based organisation that has the primary mission of reaching out to prisoners, ex-prisoners, victims and their families with the love of God through Christ because we think and do believe that true change comes from the inside. There are a lot of factors that predispose people to crime but we’ve not seen any person who despises love, so, we carry to them God’s love. This is our first mission. The other thing we do, which is very critical, is to assist the government is proffering solutions to criminal justice issues or penal reform issues that help to promote justice, peace and harmonious coexistence of citizens. The Prison Fellowship Nigeria is a chartered affiliate of the Prison Fellowship International, which has 120 member countries with Category 2 Consultative status with the United Nations Social and Economic Office. Lately, the PFN has been on a campaign to shift the focus of the criminal justice in the nation from retributive to restorative. What is the motivation for this? Restorative justice is a response to the rigidity and the overwhelming negative effect of the justice system that we presently run. Our present criminal justice system is two- partied – the offender and the state. It is very adversarial, it is exclusive and so, it does not, in itself, quite take into account the interest of those who are affected by crime. For instance, my car is stolen, I make a report, and possibly the culprit is apprehended and charged to court. It will be the Commissioner of Police versus the suspect in court. Most times, I am not taken into consideration, nobody asks me what my idea of justice is because it’s relative to what will satisfy me, what will restore me to what I was before the crime happened but that is not happening under our present criminal justice system. The state takes over, the best that happens is that the victim is called as a witness. At the end of the day all that the criminal justice system is asking is: What law has been broken? For instance, a case of robbery is established, the culprit is convicted and sentenced to prison but what happens to the victim? Nobody is interested. So, restorative justice has come to say before you can really talk about true justice that brings peace, we have to recognise and carry along all the parties involved – the offender, who committed the act; the victim, who was directly affected; the community and then the government, which is concerned about the maintenance of law and order. The community wants peace but the victim wants validation, possibly the reparation or return of what he has lost and the offender wants to be heard. He wants to be punished, yes, but he also wants to be assisted, so that he doesn’t go back to a criminal life. But our present criminal justice system is so overly narrow that it excludes those who are critical. Practically speaking, how is the restorative justice supposed to work? Restorative justice works at every stage of the criminal justice system. It can work at the police station, pre-charge. When a complaint is received by the desk officer at the police station, the case is assigned to an Investigative Police Officers, who then brings the offender and the victim together. He looks at the protocol and interviews them and discovers that rather than charge this matter to court, he asks the complainant what he wants and the complainant says, for instance, he wants his stolen property back; and he asks the offender why he stole, and he would either say he is sorry or gives one reason or the other. Now, he asks the offender if he is ready to restore what he stole and he says yes. So, at •Iwuagwu that point, restorative justice protocol provides a platform for the IPO to get the parties to a restorative justice officer, who now conducts proper interview, documents it and once the parties agree, he refers the case to a higher officer, who then draws up a restorative agreement and once that happens, then the agreement goes to court. The police then tell the court: This is the complaint that came up but these people have gone through the restorative justice system and this is how they have agreed to resolve this matter. So, we need the consent of the court. The court then says: This is the decision of the court in this case. And the good thing is that no plea would have been taken; it will just be a question of complaint and resolution of that complaint. There will not be a convict. But even if restorative justice fails pre-charge, it can still work at the level of charge. When the administrative magistrate or judge looks at the file, he can say let this go to restorative justice. And once it is resolved there, it comes back with a restorative agreement and the good thing about restorative justice, like I said, is that the interest of all the parties is taken into account. The government for order, the victim for reparation, the offender for reintegration and rehabilitation. And that way we will be cutting our cost and our losses. But even when you have charged to court, trial has been concluded and the offender has been convicted, at the point of sentencing, restorative justice still works. Rather than sentence the convict to a jail term, the magistrate or judg