Apr 19, 2020

Is the citizen's right to Legal Representation in Nigeria suspended by the Covid-19 Regulation?



Section 36 (6) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) provides that a person arrested on allegation of commission of a criminal offence has the right to seek legal counsel from a lawyer and also the right to be defended by a legal practitioner of her choice.

Similarly, both the Administration of Criminal Justice Act LFN and Administration of Criminal Justice Laws of Lagos State guarantees the right of a suspect to make his statement to the Police in the presence of a lawyer of his choice.

Keen observers may have witnessed the prosecution of persons said to have violated the lockdown regulations imposed by both the Federal and State governments as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. Some of these accused persons have pleaded guilty while others have been remanded by the various Magistrates' Courts where they were arraigned. News reports have it that hundreds of arrests are being made daily by the Nigeria Police and other security operatives.

While it is desirable and I encourage every citizen or resident of Nigeria to adhere to the safety precautions and regulations issued by government to flatten the curve of the scourge, the question that challenges my mind at this time is: How do persons arrested and charged for violating  the express regulations of government in this regard secure the services of lawyers of their choice since lawyers have been excluded from the list of persons providing essential services? Are the Constitutionally guaranteed rights of these citizens to legal representation suspended?

It appears that all such trials and/or convictions may be set aside on appeal as they appear to violate clear provisions of our Constitution, statutes and even decided cases. I submit with respect that the proper course should be for the Federal and State governments to modify the regulations already made to accommodate and fully guarantee the rights of citizens who may run foul of such regulations to legal representation of their choice. This, in my humble view, will be a win win situation for all.

Babatunde Busari, Esq.
Lagos, Nigeria.
16/04/2020

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