The Anglican Bishop of Accra, Right Rev. Dr Daniel Sylvanus Mensah Torto, has called for steps to ensure that access to justice does not remain the privilege of the rich, since justice must be enjoyed by all.
“Applying the law equally regardless of identity is critical to creating a semblance of fairness and legitimacy or fairness. This involves applying the laws in a non-discriminatory manner, treating all persons equally in the courtroom and having rulings that are seasoned and consistent with the law,” he said.
Right Rev. Dr Torto was speaking at a special church service to mark the opening of the 2013-2014 Legal Year at the Most Holy Trinity Cathedral in Accra last Saturday.
The service was on the theme: “Access to Justice - A Tool for Peace and Stability”.
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In attendance were the Chief Justice, Mrs Georgina Theodora Wood, and the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Mrs Marietta Brew Appiah-Oppong, among other members of the bench and the bar.
Access to justice
Rt Rev Torto said any intervention on access to justice should be able to take into account poverty, gender and other issues, and that dispensing of justice should be done with the welfare of the people in mind.
He said there was no access to justice where citizens were afraid of the system or saw it as alien, or financially inaccessible.
Access to justice, he said, involved legal awareness, protection, legal assistance, adjudication and enforcement.
“Access to justice supports sustainable peace by affording the population a more attractive alternative to violence. There can be no stability without peace. Access to justice guarantees peace and stability,” he said.
How to strengthen system
Rt Rev Torto said for the population to understand justice, all members needed to understand their rights and the means of claiming them.
Legal awareness helped to counter this misunderstanding and promoted access to justice, the Anglican Bishop said.
“Beloved, access to justice is not just about more courtrooms or more staff, it is about quality of justice. Justice systems that are slow or incomprehensible to the public effectively deny legal protection.
Court houses must exist not only in the urban populated areas but in remote and rural areas to enable proper access to the formal justice system.”
Rt Rev Dr Torto said access to justice included linguistically and culturally accessible justice systems using local languages in court proceedings.
According to him, if individuals did not feel that their grievances would be addressed in an efficient and timely manner, they might resort to violent alternatives.
“Poor legal representation is no better than lack of legal representation. The majority of people should see the legal system as viable, responsive and fair. Fair and sincere decisions of court help to shape society, thus creating an atmosphere of peace and stability,” he said.
Rt Rev Dr Torto said reforming the law on paper was not enough to change the reality on the ground, since poor people also needed a judicial system that they could access.
Efforts, he said, should be made to legally empower the poor.
“The poor rarely appeared in court except as defendants in civil suits and criminal prosecutions,” he said.
By Emmanuel Bonney/Daily Graphic/Ghana