A trial in absentia typically refers to a criminal proceeding in a court of law in which the defendant is not physically present to present a defence and testify on behalf of one’s self. This typical Scenario occurs where a defendant flees midtrial, fully aware that he or she is supposed to show up in court or where there is proof that the defendant has attempted previously to frustrate his trial.
Trials in absentia are extremely rare as such a conviction where a defendant is not present to defend and answer charges in person may be considered a violation of the principle of natural justice and notions of fair play. Judges are therefore careful to ensure that a defendant’s absence is truly voluntary, intentional or where a misconduct has been established rather than the result of foul play, ill health, or lack of notice, lest they create grounds for appeal.
In a recent development, the trial of former PDP National Publicity Secretary; Chief Olisa Metuh before a Federal High Court in Abuja has been ordered by the court to proceed in his absence.
According to the Punch, Justice Okon Abang of the Federal High Court Abuja, in his ruling said the court was entitled to proceed with the trial in Metuh’s absence as his deliberate absence from court without any reasonable explanation to justify it amounted to a violation of the bail granted him.
The Court therefore ruled in favour of the Application by the EFCC to continue the trial in Metuh’s absence. The judge ruled, “The application by the prosecution deserves to succeed”.
It should be noted that Section 266(a) and Section 352(4) of The Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015; provides for a trial in absentia. Section 266 provides for the Presence of defendant at trial while Section 352 provides for Non-appearance of defendant.
In the opinion of the court, these provisions entitle the court to proceed with the case in the absence of Metuh. Recall that Metuh alongside his company, Destra Investment Limited is being prosecuted by the EFCC for the 400million he alleged received fraudulently from the office of the National Security Adviser in 2014.
The court maintained that Metuh engaged in gross misconduct when he disobediently attempted to enter the dock after the court had permitted him to remain where he was initially. According to the learned Justice, the defendant ignored a humane disposition of the court by insisting on entering the dock, an action he said amounted to gross misconduct and wilful disobedience to a lawful directive from the court.
However Chief Olisa Metuh’s trial suffered a setback when following the absence of his lawyer Mr Emeka Etiaba, who was said to have gone to the Supreme Court to handle another matter.