CRIMINAL LAW AND PROCEDURE – CRIMINAL TRIAL/PROCEEDINGS – Effect of the absence of an accused person at the address stage of a criminal trial


“Section 210 of the Criminal Procedure Law of Oyo State provides: “210. Every accused person shall, subject to the provisions of Section 100 and Subsection (2) of Section 223, be present in Court during the whole of his trial unless he misconducts himself by so interrupting the proceedings or otherwise as to render their continuance in his presence impracticable.” ?Section 100 applies to proceedings before a Magistrate while Section 223 is in relation to persons of unsound mind. The requirement of the presence of an accused person throughout his trial is in consonance with his fundamental right to fair hearing guaranteed by Section 36(1) of the 1999 Constitution, as amended. It has been held by this Court that the addresses of counsel are an essential part of the trial. The Court is fortified in this view by the provision of Section 258 of the 1979 Constitution (Now Section 294 (1) of the 1999 Constitution, as amended), which utilised the conclusion of addresses as an important determinant of the time limit for delivery of judgment. See: Ndu Vs The State (1990) LPELR – 1975 (SC) @ 45 A – C: Obodo Vs Olamu & Anor (1987) 3 NWLR (Pt. 59) 111 @ 123 0 124. In State Vs Lawal (2013) 7 NWLR (Pt 1354) 568, this Court held that the conduct of proceedings, in that case, the taking of final addresses in the absence of two of the accused in a joint trial, constituted a breach of their fundamental right to fair hearing and rendered the trial a nullity. To press the point home, His Lordship, Alagoa, JSC, in his contribution, stated thus (at page 595 – 596 supra): “It is a fundamental principle of fair hearing that accused persons standing trial for a criminal offence have to be present in Court throughout the period of their trial, a violation of which renders the trial a nullity. See Daniel Adeoye Vs The State (1999) 6 NWLR (Pt. 605) 74 where this Court held that a trial, whether objected to or not, in the absence of an accused person is a sham and renders the purported trial a nullity, the only known exceptions being where the accused misconducts himself at the trial or is of unsound mind and so incapable of making his defence…” Learned counsel for the appellant has laboured in vain to distinguish this authority from the facts of the instant case. The lower Court was right to abide by the precedent already laid down by this Court in the said case in allowing the appeal. The judgment is on a very strong wicket and I am not persuaded to interfere with it.” Per KUDIRAT MOTONMORI OLATOKUNBO KEKERE-EKUN, JSC in STATE v. YANGA (2021-LCER-40500-SC) (Pp 16 – 18; Paras D – D)

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