Reflections of a Human Rights lawyer at 60

I am writing this on the eve of my very special day.

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Sixty years have passed since I entered this world. Therefore, I felt it appropriate to both reflect on the past and to plan for the future.

I have been fortunate enough to have seen a fair bit of the world, having trained and practised law in the UK, travelled throughout Europe and West Africa and now, having settled back in Ghana, practising in my home country.

My travels have enabled me to see how other countries function and specifically how other legal jurisdictions operate. I was lucky enough to visit and to have had an experience at the European Human Rights Court in Strasbourg, gaining my master’s degree in my chosen subject of international and human rights law in the UK.

The sole purpose of this was to enable me to return home and put my knowledge and skills to the service of my country, which can do better in terms of how human rights are upheld within the criminal justice system.

Organisation

Towards this aim, I have, therefore, as part of my ‘New Start at 60’ campaign, decided that this is the time to launch my much-planned and long-dreamt non-governmental organisation (NGO) – the LAHRIA Organisation – Law and Human Rights in Action Organisation.

The aim of LAHRIA includes but is not limited to, advocating on human rights issues affecting persons charged with a crime; advocating on human rights generally; lobbying for change and the implementation of human rights in Parliament, etc; advocating for socioeconomic rights of citizens, especially the justiciability of economic rights — for instance, the right to work, right to housing, right to education, etc; police accountability and, or abuse of policing duties and prison reforms concerning conditions and more emphasis on the rehabilitation of offenders.

Advocacy

As the name implies, LAHRIA is essentially a human rights NGO. The advocacy and lobbying for reform will be necessary in two parts: human rights issues affecting the criminal justice system as a whole, and the deployment of international human rights treaties, especially of socio-economic rights in relation to its justiciability at the Ghanaian courts.

With regard to the former, the advocacy will concentrate on the human rights of suspects and arrested persons in relation to treatment and questioning at police stations.

This will include, but will not be limited to, the right to a lawyer during police questioning, issues of enforcing the constitutional rights of arrested persons concerning confessions at police stations, the right to bail, etc.

If and when arrested persons are sent to trial, LAHRIA aims to advocate for the implementation of internationally accepted standards for fair trial: early disclosure of prosecution evidence, right to bail, right to have trials in a reasonable time, consistent and coherent principles of sentencing, etc.

LAHRIA will be lobbying for the legislation into Ghanaian law of all the ratified international treaties to help practitioners directly rely on them in litigating human rights issues because as it stands, they are only of persuasive significance.

Areas

I have already discussed several of these areas in these pages over the past months. While it is gratifying to know that much of what I have suggestions for improvements to the criminal justice system have been put into practice, I feel it necessary  to put my energies into ensuring that more is done to improve the system.

This will involve taking action at the Supreme Court, creating awareness of human rights among judges, training lawyers in human rights law and continuing to write and provide pro bono (free) legal representation to a few of the many cases where the system has failed.

This includes those who have been detained without trial for years, those who have been imprisoned unfairly and those who have been held on remand for years without bail and who have subsequently been found not guilty but have lost everything during the years they have been incarcerated.

Justice and compensation are needed before the Ghana criminal justice system can be said to treat its citizens fairly as laid down in the constitution. My birthday wish is that all readers will support the birth of this entity which will help in some small way to improve all our lives. Medaase.

The writer is a lawyer.
E-mail: [email protected]

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