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Legal Aid challenges to be resolved — A-G

BY: Emmanuel Ebo Hawkson
Mr Godfred Yeboah Dame, the A-G and Minister of Justice, interacting with some people who are seeking the services of Legal Aid
Mr Godfred Yeboah Dame, the A-G and Minister of Justice, interacting with some people who are seeking the services of Legal Aid

The government is committed to resolving the myriad of challenges facing the Legal Aid Commission (LAC) to enable the commission to effectively assist the vulnerable with legal services, the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Mr Godfred Yeboah Dame, has said.

He said the government would, from next week, present the LAC with 14 vehicles to augment its fleet for effective service delivery.

According to him, the 14 vehicles were part of 90 newly acquired vehicles which would be distributed to the various agencies under the A-G’s Department and Ministry of Justice.

The government, he added, would, from 2023, also start the construction of a new head office complex for the LAC to address the lack of office space that had bedeviled the commission for many years.

Resource

“In the meantime, the government will provide the commission with resources to refurbish its current head office to give it a befitting status,” he said.

Mr Dame made this known when he paid a working visit to the Head Office of the LAC and the Council on Law Reporting (CLR) in Accra last Wednesday.

He was accompanied by his two deputies — Mr Alfred Tuah-Yeboah and Ms Diana Asonaba Dapaah — and other top officials of the department, such as the Director of Public Prosecutions, Mrs Yvonne Atakora Obuobisa; the Solicitor General, Mrs Helen Akpene Awo Ziwu, and the Director of the Legislative Drafting Division, Mrs Mavis Amoa.

Legal Aid

The LAC was established in fulfilment of Article 294 of the 1992 Constitution, which grants all persons the right to legal aid for the enforcement of their rights or any provision under the 1992 Constitution.

Following the passage of the Legal Aid Commission Act, 2018 (Act 977), the LAC, which used to be known as the Legal Aid Board, became an independent commission with a three-prong mandate to be a public defender (provide free legal services for those in need of it), advise the citizenry on legal issues, as well as provide alternative dispute resolution (ADR) services for the public.

The Head of Administration of the LAC, Mr Sylvester Nyarko Mends, told the A-G and his entourage that the LAC faced serious challenges, with the biggest being limited office space and inadequate staffing.

The LAC currently has its head office in the basement of the Head Office of the CLR.

Mr Mends said apart from the limited space, the building was in a dilapidated state and had been declared by experts as not safe for use.

“Lack of space makes it impossible for us to fully discharge our mandate. All the offices are choked. About six lawyers share one small office, while people who seek our services are also forced to wait in long queues due to inadequate staff,” he said.

He also appealed to the A-G to speed up the process to constitute a new board for the LAC, as well as the appointment of a new Executive Director, following the retirement of the Executive Director, Mr Martin Tieku Amoyaw, on January 23, 2022

Law Reporting

When the A-G and his team visited the CLR, the body responsible for compiling law reports on various decisions of the Superior courts, the council said its biggest challenge was the lack of adequate training for its staff.

The Editor of the CLR, Mrs Margaret Awuku-Gyekye, said there was no institution in Ghana that offered training on law reporting, a situation which was adversely affecting its operations.

“Law reporting is a very technical field which requires constant training. We used to send our law reporters to other countries for training, but for about 20 years this has not been done due to lack of funding,” she said.

Responding to the concerns and challenges, Mr Dame said the A-G’s Department played a crucial in the country, as it was responsible for prosecuting criminal cases, defending the government in civil suits, providing legal advice for the government, as well as drafting laws for submission to Parliament.

He said unfortunately, agencies under his outfit were grossly understaffed, while many others too operated in deplorable conditions.

His vision, he said, was to build a modern legal service which would be fit for purpose and adequately discharge its functions.

In view of that, the government was committed to completing the Law House, a 12-storey office complex to house the A-G’s Office, by the end of the year, he said.

“The building will greatly ease congestion among the staff of the A-G’s Department. Right after completing the Law House, we will work on the Head Office of the CLR and also build a new head office for the LAC,” he said.