By Bamidele Kolawole
The police is not allowed by law to forcefully obtain statement from a suspect or defendant. As a matter of fact, from the point of arrest, a police officer is duty bound to inform the suspect of his right to remain silent otherwise anything he says may be used against him in Court of law.
The Nigeria Police Force is one of the agencies charged with the responsibility of arresting offenders in Nigeria. In the process of arrest, the police has the statutory power to obtain statements from any suspect in its custody.
The Nigeria Police Act and the Administration of Criminal Justice Act give the police the power to obtain statements from suspects. Section 60 of the Police Act and Section 17 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act stipulate that statements so obtained from suspects must be voluntarily obtained and same must be devoid of coercion and force.
I submit, therefore, that police doesn’t have the power to obtain statements from defendants or suspects by force, intimidation, threat or coercion. Any statement obtained forcefully or by coercion has be held by the Nigerian courts and plethora of statutory authorities to be inadmissible in the law courts.
Furthermore, Section 29 of the Evidence Act provides that a confessional statement made by a suspect or a defendant shall be admissible provided same was made voluntarily without any element of coercion. Thus, Evidence Act which the basic authority that governs admissibility of evidence in Nigeria courts prohibits the police from taking statements from suspects forcefully.
Apparently, the Evidence Act proceeds to state that confessional statements obtained from suspects shall only pass the test of admissibility if they were obtained without inducements, promises and threat. Therefore, where the police obtain confessional statements from a person under promises to help the suspect or inducements of assistance or threat of any manner; such statements will not be voluntary and ipso facto inadmissible.
The mere fact that a suspect or a defendant alleges that his statement was involuntarily obtained does not automatically mean the court will accept such allegations. The position of the law is that the burden is on the prosecution to prove that the statement was voluntarily made and this will lead the court to ascertain same during what is called trial within trial.
Consequently, the position of the law is that police can only obtain statements from suspect voluntarily devoid of force or coercion.
It is part of police work, when a suspect is arrested for whatever crime, to record his or her statement. Thus, statement is what a suspect knows about the crimes he is alleged to have committed which is reduced into writing either by himself or by a person of his choice or his lawyer.
A statement is either voluntary or involuntary depending on how or in what manner it is obtained from the suspect. It is either a confessional statement or an unconfessional statement.
It is confessional if the suspect admits the commission of the crime in respect of which he is to volunteer his statement. Unconfessional if the suspect does not admit the commission of a crime of which he is alleged to have been committed.
Section 34 of the 1999 Constitution protects the right to dignity of human person and no person shall be subjected to torture or physical brutality. The police or any security agency however, must be careful in taking the statement of a suspect.
The suspect must not be tortured during the time of recording his statement. He must never be induced or lured into giving his statement otherwise, the statement will be inadmissible in court.
In other words, while taking the statement of a suspect, it must be taken in an environment devoid of physical, mental, psychological and emotional torture, otherwise, the statement shall be rejected if eventually tendered in court.
To this end, the law prohibits forceful taking of statements from suspects. And apart from the ground norm, that is, the Constitution, there are legislation like the Administration of Criminal Justice Law of some States in Nigeria that protect suspects from being traumatized while his statement is being recorded.
For instance, the Administration of Criminal Justice Law of Ondo State, 2015 specifically sections 10 and 12 prohibit taking statement of a suspect whereof his lawyer or person of his choice or any of his family members is not present. Although, recent Supreme court’s decisions have set aside the provisions of sections 10 and 12 of the ACJL, 2015 by giving full effect to the provision of section 4 of the Evidence Act, 2011.
We in the legal profession have always advocated that, suspect should not volunteer his statement unless and until his lawyer is present so that he will not be subjected to unnecessary torture or inducement at the time his statement is being recorded.
The suspect can even refuse to give statement at all, because the purpose of the statement is that, it may be tendered in court.
In all, police cannot forcefully obtain statement from suspects or defendants at least during police interview which forms part of preliminary stage of criminal cases.
The police is not allowed by law to forcefully obtain statement from a suspect or defendant. As a matter of fact, from the point of arrest, a police officer is duty bound to inform the suspect of his right to remain silent otherwise anything he says may be used against him in Court of law. This is one of the unwritten *Judges Rule* in our criminal jurisprudence.
It should be noted that extant provisions of our various laws governing criminal justice such as Evidence Act, Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015 (Federal Act) which has been domesticated with slight modifications in Ondo State as Administration of Criminal Justice Law, 2015 make provisions for how extra judicial statements should be extracted from suspects in a free, fair and conducive manner.
Lawful statement obtained from a suspect must be voluntarily made by him. Any statement obtained by force from a suspect is inadmissible in evidence on the ground of *involuntariness* as such statement was involuntarily obtained.
To prevent the use of force to obtain statement from suspects, especially confessional statements, the law provides that such statement must be made under the full glare of camera with intent to produce a video of how the statement was made or in the absence of a video facility, such statement must be made in the presence of the suspect’s lawyer or any of his relatives. The suspect’s lawyer or his relative must also endorse the statement made by the suspect. Sections 10 and 12 of Administration of Criminal Justice Law of Ondo State, 2015 are very clear about the aforementioned provisions of the law.
It should be noted that whenever objection to the admissibility of a statement forcefully obtained from a defendant is raised by the defendant through his counsel, the Court shall conduct what is known in legal circle as *trial within trial* to determine the authenticity or otherwise of the claim of involuntariness in the making of the statement and if it is found out that the statement was forcefully obtained, even if the content is true, the Court will not admit it.
It should also be noted that involuntariness does not come from the use of force alone. It may arise where there is evidence of external influence of any form such as threats, promise of favour etc on the defendant.
So obtaining statement from a suspect or defendant is a sensitive legal issue with laid down legal procedure which must be followed *stricto sensu* by the police or any of our law enforcement agencies investigating criminal allegations.
When a suspect is arrested by the police for an alleged crime, he or she will be asked to write a statement detailing the circumstances of the incident that led to the arrest.
When dealing with witnesses and complainants, the police also tend to ask them to write or record a statement of what transpired.
Statements are very important because they serve as evidence before the court. The manner in which a statement is written or recorded can influence the discharge of justice.
For instance: If a suspect poorly writes a statement, it can incriminate him or her during court proceedings.
There have been several reports of police officers asking suspects to write statements under duress or forcing them to append their signature to an already-written statement.
But did you know that you can request for a lawyer to be present before you write a statement?
According to the Nigeria Police Act, 2020 and the Administration Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) 2015, suspects actually have the right to decide whether they want to write statements or not.
Section 60 of the Nigeria Police Act and section 17 of the ACJA state that writing statements by a suspect should be voluntary.
The Police Act states that “where a suspect is arrested on allegation of having committed an offence, his statement shall be taken, If he so wishes to make a statement”.
When the suspect wishes to write a statement, the law provides that it must be done before a legal practitioner, a member of the civil society organisation or any other person of their choosing.
Police cannot forcefully obtain statement from suspect at the police station. Remember that anything you say to the police can be used against you. If you are a witness, you should know that no one can be compelled to make a statement by the police.
Section 60 (2) states: “The statement may be taken in the presence of a legal practitioner of his choice, or where he has no legal practitioner of his choice, in the presence of an officer of the Legal Aid Council of Nigeria: an official of a civil society organization or a justice of the peace or any person of his choice, provided that the legal practitioner or any other person mentioned in this subsection shall not interfere while the suspect is making is statement, except for the purpose of discharging his duty as a legal practitioner.”
It also provides that an interpreter should be available, in a situation where the suspects do not understand, speak or write the English Language. The interpreter is also required to endorse the statement.
In the same vein, the ACJA 2015 stipulates the same rights for suspects when writing a statement after arrest.
The police and security agencies are not permitted to forcefully obtain statements from a suspect.
The provisions of the Administration of Criminal Justice law are clear on the procedure for receiving statements from suspects. Under sections 10 and 12 of the law, statement of a suspect should be recorded in a conducive atmosphere without fear or intimidation.
For instance, a gun or baton should not be present in a statement room. The family member of the suspect or his lawyer is expected to be present as a witness to the recording.
In fact, under the Evidence Act, any statement recorded with the use of force cannot be admitted by the court when it is presented in court.
What is more, a suspect can decide to remain silent and refrain from making statement at the police station.