By Funmi Falobi
No doubt, women, children and people with disability are the most vulnerable groups in any society. Many a times, their rights are often infringed upon while many do not have access to justice. In the case of arrest, detention and trial, these vulnerable groups suffer human rights infringement.
In order to bring to the fore the injustices vulnerable people go through and ensure that their rights are protected, the Rights Enforcement and Public Law Centre (REPLACE) with support of Rule of Law and Anti-Corruption (ROLAC) has held a consultative meeting with civil organisations on “Access to Justice for Vulnerable Persons.”
The seminar focused on the importance of the Police Duty Solicitor Scheme (PDSS) and how to ensure the scheme become effective and implemented across the country to ensure access to justice for women and people with disability.
According to the Executive Director, REPLACE, Felicitas Aigbogun-Brai, there is need to change the narrative on how the police treat women and PWDs arrested. “In detention, there should be provision of sanitary pad for women. The way you treat a woman is different from man. People should be treated with dignity,” she said.
She explained that the seminar became imperative in order to get the input of people on the field in providing legal services for women, PWDs based on their knowledge and to give robust document to the police.
On how PDSS has effected change in the legal system, Aigbogun-Brai said “there is now Family Support Unit in Lagos police. There is a slight change in how they treat victims of domestic violence and sexual offences, but for others, no change.”
Similarly, Chibogu Obinwa, ROLAC Gender Specialist said the organisation believes in human rights especially that of women and PWDs, hence, the need to look into the PDSS and see how it would assist the work of legal service providers and civil society organisations in ensuring access to justice for vulnerable people.
Delivering her speech, Legal Aid Council, Lagos State Coordinator, Iyabo Akingbade declared that a lot has happened in the legal system in Nigeria and that the police are now on their toes.
Represented by Grace Adenubi, Assistant Director, Legal Aid Council, Akingbade said the essence of the Police Duty Solicitor Scheme is not to monitor the police but to ensure that there is compliance with the rights of the people and to promote legal and human rights of suspects, and not to torture them while in detention.
While stressing that there should be consistence and awareness, she stated that there is police advisory committee to ensure the scheme works, such as “to ensure the law works and that ‘bail is free’ is not only on paper. Doing so will put the police in better light and someone will not be afraid to go to the police station”, she noted.
“Police duty is to cooperate and ensure the scheme works. They are to give access to meet and interview the suspects. Solicitors are to look at the cell environment, whether their rights are being infringed upon. There should be a follow up to know compliance,” she said.
In broadening the discourse, participants were divided into groups to formulate a communique on guidelines for the police on women, PWDs in detention as well as legal service providers.
The organisers noted that communique from the group activities would serve as part of the training document for civil society organisations, the police and senior officers at the station level to spread the awareness to other officers.