GBA President calls for debate on jury system

BY: Nana Konadu Agyeman
Mr Benson Nutsukpui,GBA President

The President of the Ghana Bar Association (GBA), Mr Benson Nutsukpui, has called for a national debate to decide whether or not to abolish the jury system.

He said it was no secret that the jury system was severely challenged, with absenteeism becoming commonplace among jurors, leading to unnecessary delays in criminal trials.

Speaking at the opening of the criminal session for the 2015/2016 Legal Year, Mr Nutsukpui noted that a certain sense of professionalism was developing in the jury system, with some particular citizens always selected to be jurors in many cases pending at the same time.

What is criminal session?

The criminal session is the period when cases on indictment, such as murder, rape and manslaughter, designated as first degree felonies, are tried by a judge and a jury.

An accused found guilty of any of these offences may be sentenced to death or for life, since the offences are considered very grave or serious.

In all, the Attorney-General’s Department has listed 12 cases to be tried in the 2015/2016 Legal Year.

Poor treatment of jurors

Mr Nutsukpui pointed out that in a country with a very high per cent of uneducated citizens, justice might not be done in many cases if the pool of citizens from which jurors were chosen was quite uneducated.

He also said often people selected as jurors were treated poorly by the State, paid meagre allowances and not provided adequate protection.

“This makes jurors susceptible to influence by accused persons and their relatives,” he said.

Against that backdrop, the GBA President said, it was time a critical look was taken at the jury system to consider whether to abolish it completely or not.

He said he intended to place the issue before the Bar Council for discussion for the Bar to state a definite position on the issue.

“The Attorney-General may wish to consider initiating consultations and commencing the process to amend Act 30 to introduce a more effective and less time and resource-consuming system,” he added.

Legal Aid Scheme

On the Legal Aid Scheme, Mr Nutsukpui said it had been unable to cope with the volume of cases that was assigned to its staff.

He blamed the challenge facing the scheme on the lack of governmental support to make it function properly.

The Minister of Justice and Attorney-General (A-G), Mrs Marietta Brew Appiah-Opong, promised that the ministry and the A-G’s Office would ensure that the 12 cases listed for trial during the 2015/2016 legal year were prosecuted expeditiously.

Lessons from judicial crisis

A Justice of the Supreme Court, Mr Justice William Atugubah, who focused attention on the recent “storms” that plagued the Judiciary, called for a new Judiciary in which corruption in all its shades could not have influence, actual or perceived.

A Justice of the Court of Appeal, Mr Justice E. K. Ayebi, said the courts did not take delight in putting convicted persons into prison and called on society, particularly families and parents, to keep track of their members and advise them against robbery, fraud, sakawa and such activities.