Arraignment and taking the plea of an accused person is the very commencement of a criminal trial. It is the stage when the accused person appears in court, the charge explained to his understanding and pleads there to in person and not through his counsel. The object of arraignment in terms of Aection 215 of the Criminal Procedure Act (CPA) Cap 41 laws of the Federation of Nigeria (LFN) 2004, is to ensure that justice is done to the accused. This provision also states the requirements of a valid arraignment.
“The person to be tried upon any charge or information shall be placed before the court unfettered unless the court shall see cause otherwise to order, and the charge or information shall be read over and explained to him to the satisfaction of the court and such person shall be called upon to plead instantly there to, unless when the person is entitled to service of a copy of the information he objects to the want of such service and the court finds that he has not been duly serviced therewith”. In Lufedeju V. Johnson (2007 AYL FWLR (Pt 371) 15 32 (2) 1552-1554 the court held that the requirements for a valid arraignment is mandatory and must be strictly complied with.
In Kajubo V. State (1988), NWLR (Pt 73) 721 @ 721 @738 C-F His hardship Oputa JSC stated that for there to be a proper arraignment.
1. The accused person shall be present in court.
2. The charge or information shall be read over to him in a language he understands.
3. The charge or information after being read over to him in such language should be explained to him, avoiding as much as possible the use of technical expressions. This explanation should acquaint the accused person with the essential ingredients of the offence charged and with the factual situation resulting in and giving rise to the offence charged.
4. To make assurance doubly sure the trial judge should also satisfy himself that the explanation to the offence charged was adequate and that the accused understands what he is standing trial for.
It is good practice for trial courts to specifically record that “the charge was read and fully explained to the accused to the satisfaction of the court before then recording his plea thereto”.
It has been said in innumerable decisions of court that a valid arraignment of an accused person confers jurisdiction on the court to proceed with the heaving of the case. A valid arraignment is so fundamental in that if it is not done properly the court would have no jurisdiction to adjudicate and if it does the adjudicate without jurisdiction to do so, the trial would be a nullity. A trial done where there is an invalid arraignment violates the accused persons right of fair heaving guaranteed by section 36(6) of the 1999 constitution, see Adewumi V. State (2016) 1-3 SC (Pt ii) P. 123.
The supreme court in Ogunye V. State (1999) 5 NWLR (Pt 604) 548 is of the view that the requirement of strict compliance with the requisite provisions of the law relating to arraignment must not be over-stretched to a ridiculous degree, confidence and respectability must be accorded to the integrity of the adjudicator.