In response to congestion of custodial centers in Nigeria in the aftermath of the COVID 19 Pandemic, PRAWA with the support of OSIWA, piloted the use of technology in supporting regular court sittings. Abia state Judiciary was the beneficiary of this pilot E-Court sitting. The state judiciary was provided with technological platform and training support for virtual court sittings in 2021. The virtual court platform established provided resources to the courts and custodial centers across Abia State. However the virtual court sitting was operationalized real time in February of 2022.
PRAWA initiated stakeholders consultative meetings to get the buy-in of the relevant agencies of the criminal justice system in Abia state to ensure cooperation with the Judiciary for the actualization of the virtual court sittings. The meeting was attended by the Director of Public Prosecution and other state counsel from the ministry of justice, Nigeria correctional service, Nigeria Police Force, Pro-bono lawyers, Paralegal and PRAWA team. Interestingly, all stakeholders identified with the benefits of the laudable initiative as an important measure towards addressing the many challenges of high numbers of awaiting trial persons in custodial centers across Abia State and a tool to ensure that delivery of criminal justice is not stalled by any unforeseen event or emergency in the future.
The Chief Judge of Abia State graciously approved most of the recommended criteria for the presentation and release of inmates at the virtual courts. The recommended criteria for enlistment of cases at virtual courts include Petty offenders and other low- risk offenders in custody. PRAWA Probono and Paralegal team visited custodial centers to verify lists of inmates presented for the virtual courts. On 9th of February, 2022 Courts in Abia State Judiciary started sitting virtually and 12 inmates regained their freedom in four Pilot Virtual Court Sittings At the end of the pilot Virtual Court Sittings, a Stakeholders Consultative Workshop on the Operationalization of E-CourtSitting in Abia State was held on 11th February, 2022.
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