Two states in Nigeria: Abia and Adamawa, have joined the league of states that have established Justice Sector Reform Teams (JSRT) as vehicle for driving criminal justice reform in their states.
This brings the total number of existing JSRTs to 26. The Abia State Justice Sector Reform Team (ABJSRT) was inaugurated in Umuahia, the state capital, while that of Adamawa JSRT was in Yola, the state capital too.
This is coming as three states of the Rule of Law and Anti-Corruption (RoLAC), a programme of the British Council, have passed legislation to strengthen the administration of criminal justice (ACJ) over the past ten years.
Lagos passed the first law in 2007 and has since made amendments including in 2015. Anambra State passed its ACJ law in 2010 and FCT passed the ACJ Act in 2015.
However, all three places have encountered significant difficulties in ensuring the legislation is applied effectively across the criminal justice sector.
RoLAC is working in all three states with criminal justice actors from across the spectrum to raise awareness of the legislation and work towards ensuring it is applied in all cases.
Understanding current levels of awareness and application was an important first step for the programme, to understand key areas of both high and low levels of awareness and application and to set a baseline against which progress can be measured.
The programme commissioned surveys in all three states to gather information about the knowledge and application of the legislation from across the sector. The survey was targeted at a selection of investigators, prosecutors, defence lawyers, judicial officers and prison officers from all the locations.
Lagos State respondents showed the highest levels of awareness and application. FCT exhibited the lowest levels in both categories, not unexpectedly as ACJ legislation was passed in FCT most recently.
Levels of awareness and application were highest amongst judicial officers (judges and magistrates), whilst prison officers showed the lowest levels.
The programme will engage with all the groups in all three locations over the coming years, with the aim of taking average awareness and application over 55%
However, a state JRTs is made up of representatives of all the key justice institutions in the state including federal institutions operating in the state
The RoLAC programme also arranged and facilitated workshops at federal level in Abuja and in four states of Adamawa, Anambra, Kano and Lagos, bringing together Federal Justice Sector Reform Coordinating Committee (FJSRCC) and the Justice Sector Reform Team (JSRT) to agree action plan for improvements within justice sector.
These five workshops took place between Feb to May, attended by 145 key stakeholders who agreed 84 concrete and specific activities that they will be implementing over the next year.
The workshops provided opportunities for relevant stakeholders in the justice sector to collectively identify challenges facing the sector in their state and develop activities and strategies to resolve them.
A Network Conference of Justice Sector Reform Teams bringing together 103 delegates from 32 states of the federation including the newly established teams of Adamawa and Abia, was then held in Calabar, the Cross River State capital last May.
RoLAC drivers say it provided an opportunity for sharing experiences and best practices in justice sector reform across the country. Several states like Bauchi, Gombe, Zamfara and Rivers, who attended the conference as observers, committed to take steps towards establishing a state Justice Sector Reform Team.