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Many detainees can't afford legal services - Legal Aid

BY: Zadok K. Gyesi
The Executive Director of the Legal Aid Ghana, Mr Alhassan Yahaya Seini launching the report
The Executive Director of the Legal Aid Ghana, Mr Alhassan Yahaya Seini launching the report

The Executive Director of the Legal Aid Ghana, Mr Alhassan Yahaya Seini says legal services should not be made the reserve of the privileged ones in the society.

According to him, many of the people who have remained in detentions in the country for long periods are individuals who cannot afford the services of lawyers.

He said people who have the means to afford legal services do not spend even a day in detention.

Mr Seini was speaking at the launch of a report on excessive delay of cases and prolonged pre-trial detentions in Ghana at the Press Centre in Accra Tuesday.

He said justice should not be made the commodity for only those in cities to access, adding that justice should be made "accessible to people wherever they are."

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He explained that out of the 2,599 licensed legal practitioners in the country as of 2017, 2,112 were in Accra alone with Kumasi having 255.

Mr Seini said there are many parts of the country where people cannot access the services of legal practitioners due to the skewed distribution of legal practitioners in the cities.

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He therefore called for a re-look of the country's legal education system, saying training people who are not lawyers to assist people with legal services would go a long way to improve the countrys justice system.

The report

The report was put together by the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI), an international non-governmental organization, mandated to ensure the practical realisation of human rights in the countries of the Commonwealth.

It was produced as part of an eight months project that looked at the average turn-around time for some dockets from 14 selected police stations that have been referred to the Attorney-General's Department for advice.

The report identified insufficient logistics, inadequate office space, bureaucracy, insufficient resources, difficulty in finding or bringing prosecution witnesses, delayed and incomplete investigations and understaffing of the A-G's office as some of the challenges contributing to the delays in the turn-around time of cases in the country.

It therefore recommended to the Ghana Bar Association to lead discussions in enacting and enforcing a paralegal Act for Ghana.

That, it said, would help improve access to justice to indigents.

It also called for maximum cooperation and communication among the institutions and stakeholders involved in forwarding and reviewing of dockets along the various levels.

More importantly, the study called for more legal practitioners to be afforded the required training to supplement the increasing demand of legal services in the country.

Project

The Head of Africa Office of CHRI, Ms Mina Mensah, said the study monitored the selected dockets in police stations in Accra and Kumasi that have been referred to the A-G's Department for six months to find out the average turn-around time for cases referred by the police.

She said CHRI has since 2008 been implementing a project dubbed the "Justice Centre Project " to promote increased access to justice and protection of the human rights of the poor and indigent within the criminal justice system in Ghana.

She explained that the objective of the study was to produce an evidence based report on the average turn-around time for cases referred by the police to the A-G's Department which will be used as an advocacy tool to support demands for improved case management structures to enhance justice delivery.

The Head of Public Law Department of the Ghana Institute of Management and Public Administration (GIMPA), Mr Edmund Amarkwei Foley, called for logistical support for the A-G's office to expedite the prosecutions of cases.

He said it is time the country harnessed the various legal skills that are available in the country.