Legality of Media parade of suspects
Media parade is a form of open display or communication to the general public, an incident or development through any of the known means of social media platforms including but not limited to Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp or using the traditional media platforms such as radio, television among others.
The rate at which suspects who are alleged of committing one criminal offence or the other is paraded for media shows in Nigeria is phenomenal.
During these media parades of suspects; quite many of the suspects are subjected to inhuman and degrading conditions with several of them handcuffed, brutalised, maltreated and wounded, to mention just a few.
Section 36 (5) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is a fundamental provision criminal justice system of Nigeria. It provides that anyone who is alleged or accused or charged with any criminal allegation in Nigeria; irrespective of the magnitude of the offece; is presumed innocent until the contrary is proved.
Furthermore, Section 35 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria provides that the dignity of human person of any suspect or defendant in a criminal matter must be preserved. This is a generic provision and it presupposes that suspects should not be subjected to degrading or debased conditions during investigation or trial. This constitutional provision is complemented by Section 8 (1) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act of Nigeria.
Evidently, media parade of suspects is a fundamental breach of the constitutional provisions of Sections 36 (5) and 35 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. It is a breach of the fundamental human rights of suspects and this is actionable in court with consequential relief for exemplary damages.
The Nigerian courts have consistently castigated the police on this uncivilized and unconstitutional act. In Ndukwem Chiziri Nice v AGF & Anor (2007) CHR 218 at 232; the court condemned media parade of suspects are awarded damages for the applicant.
Presumption of innocence allows a crime suspect to be considered and seen as innocent of the alleged crime until proven guilty under the applicable law. Such presumption operates in favour of the crime suspects despite the gravity of the alleged offence.
The presumption of innocence is contained in our criminal laws. Section 36(5) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria provides for the protection of every person charged with a criminal offence to be presumed innocent until he is proven guilty.
Apart from the presumption of innocence under the Constitution, a suspect/defendant has some other rights which include the right to silence, a lawyer, human dignity, informed of the reason for arrest, an interpreter, being brought before a court within a reasonable time, life, privacy, against double jeopardy see S 34 to 36 CFRN.
A Media parade is a practice of displaying to the public about an incident or development through any of the recognised mass media. A media parade of a suspect can be defined as a public display of a person suspected to have committed a crime.
It is important to restate that every suspect is presumed to be innocent until proven guilty before a court of competent jurisdiction. It follows that as a suspect, the determination of guilt relating to a particular offence is the sole responsibility of a Court of law.
In essence, only a Court of law or tribunal vested with the power to try and convict a crime suspect can exercise such power to the exclusion of the law enforcement agent irrespective of the nature of the alleged criminality.
Therefore, the media parade of the crime of a suspect is akin to pre-trial conviction in the Court of public opinion, because, at this stage, the security agencies have unilaterally given a verdict of guilt upon the suspect without formal arraignments and contrary to the Constitution.
The parade of crime suspects by the law enforcement agents in the Court of Public Opinion is an indication that the legal presumption of innocence in favour of a crime suspect is effectively displaced by the law enforcement agents. This practice has the potential to sway the thinking of the public to also assume that a suspect is guilty as alleged notwithstanding the absence of a formal arraignment.
The courts have consistently frowned at media parades by the security agents, for instance, in the case of Ndukwem Chiziri Nice v A. G. Federation & Ors, 23 (2007) CHR 218 at 232 the Court of Appeal frowned at the conduct of the prosecution and held that ‘The act of parading him (the suspect) before the press as evidenced by the exhibits annexed to the affidavit, was uncalled for and a callous disregard for his person’. See Dyot Bayi & 14 Ors v the Federal Republic of Nigeria (2004-2009) CCJLER 245 at 265.
The parade of suspects upon arrest is a trend that is peculiar to the media, police and other security agencies. This public display of suspects before they are charged to court is similitude of sentencing defendants even before they are tried in our conventional court.
It is instructive to note that, when a suspect is arrested by security agent, the arresting agent brings him or her into its custody for interrogation and interview.
Statements are taken voluntarily from the suspect and investigation commences and after the conclusion of investigation, the investigating agent decides whether or not to charge the case to court depending on the nature of the offences for which he is arrested. If the offences are capital in nature, the security agent charges the case to court and the defendant is remanded in prisons custody and the case file is duplicated and sent to the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions for legal advise.
The idea of parading suspects before the media is unconstitutional and the negates the delivery of the administration of criminal justice. It most, of the time, prejudices investigation and indeed, it indeed another way of taking away the powers of court to adjudicate on such matters.
It is a classical case of burying a person before he or she dies. In this case, the other criminal elements take to their heels and escape arrest especially where the alleged offences involves many suspects.
A cursory look at the provisions of section 36 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended, a suspect is to be given adequate facilities and time to prepare for his defense.
The question then is, how does a suspect who is yet to be tried be given adequate facilities to prepare for his defense when in fact, he has been subjected to public ridicule.
However, if eventually, the suspect is charged to court, the public has already painted him in a way suggestive of condemnation.
This trend should be discarded because after parading a suspect before he is charged to court, and at the end of the day, he or she is found not to be guilty after a valid trial in court, how can the public exonerate him or her? Public parade of suspects should be condemned in any manner it is conducted.
The issue of media parade of suspects before trial have both legal and moral sides to it. In Law, particularly criminal litigation procedure, parade of suspects before trial has limits. In the case of IKEMSOM Vs STATE (1989) 3NWLR(pt.110) 455, and other relevant cases, it is made clear that, parade of suspects is necessary only when the identity of the culprit is in doubt so as to prevent against mistaken identity and to equally ensure that the witness who claims to have seen the culprit as an eye witness is capable of identifying the culprit for sure.
Other than these two earlier pointed out, and without Prejudice to the Provision for Public view in Sect. 235 of the ADMINISTRATION OF CRIMINAL JUSTICE LAW OF ONDO STATE, no other reason is justifiable by the Law.
Let me quickly go back to the ADMINISTRATION OF THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE LAW OF ONDO STATE, Sect. 235,236 & 237, are to the effects that Trial in itself must be in Open Court in Public glares except otherwise, for some legal reasons, ordered by the court to be in seclusion to keep out the public it had earlier allowed.
Other than the Identification parade prescribed for under the Law, the other media parade of suspects before trial usually embark on by the police, truly deserves serious debate because of it’s delicate nature.
My opinion is that, the police carry out the media parade exercise for the public to see the “troubleshooters” in the society, after all when they are eventually taken to court on arrangement, the public will still see them.
But, I guess that the police probably forget that the constitutional right of the “Suspects” are at risk in that instance, as they could be stigmatized due to the fact that the parade is capable of being accepted by the public a judgment, which it is not. So for me the pre-trial media parade of suspects by the police is clearly illegal and unconstitutional.
However, speaking as a member of troubled society, I would say that the pre-trial media parade exercise by the police is actually capable of reducing crime in our society, particularly if the bunch or group of suspects is one of first-time-offenders, who may turn new leaves after eventually getting off the hook.
But again, this my position too, has a bad-side to it,in that it could be possible that a completely innocent person is wrongly paraded, and afterwards set free by the court after or before trial is completed. The Stigma could become unbearable to such person.
In conclusion, the media parade of suspects before trial by the police has no footing in Law. The Law already made provisions in the relevant statutes for the kind of acceptable parade, which is the Identification parade.
Section 36 subsection 5 of the 1999 constitution of Nigeria as Amended presumed every person who is charged with criminal offence as innocent until such person is convicted by a court of competent jurisdiction.
Needless to say, those sections added that nothing in them should invalidate any law by reason only that the law imposes upon any such person the burden of proving particular facts.
The provision also falls in consonance with African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, which is also known as the Banjul Charter, an international human rights instrument that is intended to promote and protect human rights and basic freedoms in the African continent. Nigeria was part of the 54 African Union (AU) member states that ratified the treaty in 1983.
By the virtue of this provision, the liberty and privacy of criminal suspects under the law of the land are protected beyond any orchestrated intent of the law enforcement agency.
Obviously, the law enforcement agencies in Nigeria who are constitutionally bound to protect citizen’s lives and property, and manage security architecture of the country, are violating the position of section 36 subsections 5.
In an attempt to justify the discharge of the entrusted responsibility, suspects of crime and criminality suffer character assassination, while being paraded before the media even before they are found guilty by the court.
This however brings the question of the legality or otherwise of revealing the identity of suspects through media parade, prior to when the suspect is charged with a crime in court.
In other more civilised jurisdictions law enforcement agencies diligently investigate crime and come up with concrete evidences that would aid in the conviction of suspects. Then, they arrest suspects and subsequently charge them to court for trial. Unfortunately, Nigerian system operates in reverse.
Professor of law at Bayero University, Kano and a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Mamman Lawan Yusufari believes such tendencies portray suspects as guilty in the eye of the society, thereby constituting defamation to the reputation of their characters.
“A suspect is protected by the constitution because the law says if a person is suspected to have committed an offence, he/she is a suspect. When you charge the person to court, the name changes to accused person or a defendant.
When trial starts, he may plead guilty or not guilty after the charges are read to the fellow. If he pleads guilty, the court may convict him, depending on the nature of the offence. That is called summary trial.
Media is a means of disseminating information or communicating with the public by agents of communication, that is, the Journalists. Media consists of means of mass communication (broadcasting, publishing, and the internet) regarded collectively.
Suspects is a person who has committed an offence or a crime but have not been proven guilty, using the word suspect rather that accused is better before as at this stage there is still presumption of innocence – section 36(5) of 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended and that the police is still investigating.
Trial has to do with listening to the evidence of both the parties, that is, the person who initiated the law suit Plaintiff and the suspect (the Defendant) as well. This evidence is what will make the suspect guilty or set him/her free.
By way of parade, it simply means to bring out to the public the suspects and expose whatever he/she has done to the general public.
When parade is used as a verb, it means to display. Regardless of the form in which it is used, a parade is an overt act. At this point, people start to view him/her or relate with him/her based on the alleged offence.
Parade is usually done basically as a means of identification, just to identify the suspect whether of a fact he/she is the one who has committed the offence.
There are various forms of identification parade but the one that is done by the police is carried out as a means of identifying the suspects among others who may be innocent and this is recognised by law provided that conditions of carrying it out are complied with, stricto sensu.
It is disheartening that these parades and media trials by the Police, of people who are suspects take place before investigations start or are concluded.
This is unconstitutional, unlawful and a total violation of the fundamental right the act of subjecting suspects to media trial and parade before arraignment in a criminal court, is an infringement of their fundamental rights to fair hearing and dignity.
The Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015 (ACJA). Ideally, the identification parade of suspect is expected to be done at the police station
and not in a public place.
Every Nigerian citizen enjoys fundamental rights which is guaranteed the 1999 Constitution (as amended). As a part of these rights, the law recognizes and respects the presumption of innocence of every suspect which is embedded in section 36(5) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) which states thus:
“Every person who is charged with a criminal offence shall be presumed to be innocent until he is proved guilty”.
This simply means, when a person has been suspected to have committed a criminal offence, the law deems such person innocent until proven and pronounced guilty by a competent court of law. The court has further recognized this principle in the case of Yakubu v. State (2014) LPELR – 24180 (CA) as where it was stated:
“By section 36(5) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), every person charged with a criminal offence is presumed innocent, until he is proven guilty. This provision simply translated is what is known as the principle of presumption of innocence”.
It is disheartening to note that the Nigerian Police Force has paid little respect to the presumption of innocence of suspects owing to their consistent and demeaning practice of parading suspects through the media.
This practice by the Nigerian Police Force, which portrays a person as guilty to the public, is an outright violation of the provision of section 36(5) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
The word ‘parade’ means to display (someone or something) while marching or moving while a “suspect” in legal parlance means a person thought to be guilty of a crime or offence, but whose guilt or otherwise is yet to be proved.
Media parade essentially means the practice of displaying or communicating to the public, via the media, about an incident or development. In the case of the arrest of a suspect, it is a means of informing the public, usually through publishing on the internet, the identities and offence of these suspects.
Lagos State Government recently passed into law the Administration of Criminal Justice (Amendment) Bill, 2021.
Section 9(a) of the law states: “As from the commencement of this law, the police shall refrain from parading any suspect before the media” This prohibition of illegal parade of suspects in Lagos State is a right step in the right direction and it my hope that other states will enact similar laws that will outlaw media parade of suspects.
Our courts have held in plethora of decisions that media parade of suspects before trial is uncalled for and a disregard for the persons of the suspects so paraded.
Media parade is a form of open display or communication to the general public, an incident or development through any of the known means of social media platforms including but not limited to Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp or using the traditional media platforms such as radio, television among others. Similar to identification Parade, there is the need to mention that identification parade is only necessary where the victim did not know the defendant and was confronted by the offender for a very short time and in which time and circumstances he might not have had full opportunity of observing the features of the defendant.
It is to be noted that where there is an alleged commission of crime followed by an arrest of the crimes suspect, media parade in this context presupposes the information given to the public usually through publishing on the internet, the particulars of information about the crime suspect. A crime suspect maybe defined as a person who the police or authorities think maybe guilty of a crime.
The presumption of innocence in favour of a suspect presupposes the prohibition of conducts by the prosecution tending to portray a crime suspects as guilty of the alleged offence.
This is well enshrined in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended), the Administration of Criminal Justice Act and Laws regulating crime in various states.
Such conducts by the prosecution is not limited to media parade of the suspects but include the publication of the suspects photograph in collusion with publishers and owners of media organisations.
Media parade of Suspects before trial or even before the commencement and/or conclusion of investigation is a common practice amongst law enforcement agencies in Nigeria and the world at large.
Courts have however frowned at such practice, emphasizing the need for the the “presumption of innocence” as enshrined in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (As Amended) to be applied.
Before delving further into this dissertation, key words need to be defined.
WHAT IS PARADE AND SUSPECT?
The Legal Luminary, Mike Ozehkome, SAN in his article “THE LEGALITY OR OTHERWISE OF THE PRACTICE OF PUBLIC PARADE OF SUSPECTS BY SECURITY AGENCIES (1)” @………………gave a definition of the word ‘parade’ to mean “display (someone or something) while marching or moving around a place. Synonyms include, procession, march, display, spectacle, escort, etc”
On the other hand, he quoted the word “suspect” in legal parlance as “a person thought to be guilty of a crime or offence, but who has not yet been proven to be so”
According to him, Media consists of means of mass communication (broadcasting, publishing, and the internet) regarded collectively. The term “parade” is a noun and a verb. As a noun, it means a public procession. When used as a verb, it means to display.
Regardless of the form in which it is used, a parade is an overt act.
Media parade is therefore a practice of displaying or communicating to the public about an incident or development.
In the case of people arrested for certain crimes, it is a means of informing the public, usually through publishing on the internet, the identities of these suspects.