Chief Justice Georgina Theodora Wood has said the Justice For All programme needs a complete overhaul to ensure its effectiveness.
At the first stakeholders’ workshop since the inception of the program, she revealed, though it has saved lots of persons from unduly lavishing in jail and saved the government purse, is fraught with difficulties that impede its success.
Read her statement below
KEYNOTE ADDRESS BY THE HONOURABLE LADY CHIEF JUSTICE, MRS. GEORGINA THEODORA WOOD, THE CHIEF JUSTICE OF THE REPUBLIC OF GHANA, ON THE OCCASION OF THE “JUSTICE FOR ALL” WORKSHOP AT THE ACCRA CITY HOTEL ON THE 14TH DAY OF DECEMBER 2016
My Lord Chair;
Justices of the Court of Appeal and the High Court;
Honourable Attorney General and Minister for Justice,
Representatives from the Police Service, the Prisons Service and other stakeholders here present,
Members of the Ghana Bar Association,
Representatives of Civil Society,
Distinguished Invited Guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen
It is an honour for me to deliver this address this workshop on the Justice for All Programme, a programme which was initiated by the then Attorney-General and Minister for Justice, in collaboration with the Judicial Service, the Police and Prison Services.
I was privileged to be present at its maiden sitting, which was held at the James Fort Prison, on 27th September 2007. It was hugely successful and as I speak, I do recollect the joy on the faces of those beneficiaries at the time.
As we all know, the Justice for all programme is a special in-prison court sitting on remand prisoners, prisoners whose trials are unreasonably delayed. On all accounts, the programme constitutes a key component of the rule of law, access to justice and the sustained promotion and protection of the human rights of prisoners –both remand prisoners and convicted prisoners and of course their handlers, that is officials of the Prisons Service, and by extension the families of these persons that I have identified.
This workshop, on the theme: “Justice for All: Strengths, Weaknesses and the Way Forward”, which stands to provide opportunity for introspection; with a view to strengthening our criminal justice system is definitely timely. I commend the two Justices at the helm of affairs of this programme, namely, Mr. Justice CJ Honyenugah, a Justice of the Court of Appeal and his Deputy, Mr. Justice Hometowu of the High Court, Nsawam Prison for their untiring effort in ensuring its continuing success. Their commitment and dedication to duty, have brought not only hope and relief but JUSTICE to many. So we thank them. All stakeholders’ determination to work even harder to strengthen the criminal justice system through this medium also merits special mention.
A well-known constitutional legal principle, relevant to this workshop is that an accused person is presumed innocent until proven guilty. The pertinent provision, Article 14(4) of the 1992 Constitution of the Republic of Ghana provides as follows:
“Where a person arrested, restricted or detained under paragraph (a) or (b) of clause (3) of this article is not tried within a reasonable time, then, without prejudice to any further proceedings that may be brought against him, he shall be released either unconditionally or upon reasonable conditions, including in particular, conditions reasonably necessary to ensure that he appears at a later date for trial or for proceedings preliminary to trial”
Understandably, the existing constitutional and other legal texts do not provide a contextual definition of the legal term “reasonable time”. Some have argued that the absence of a statutory definition for the expression “reasonable time”, has contributed to the general inordinate delays in the trial of remand prisoners. It is a contention I find implausible, given that the decisional law is so sufficiently clear and strong that any judge or magistrate who is desirous of ensuring justice is met in any given case, would not hide behind this argument to perpetrate injustice.
Admittedly, over the years the Justice for All programmes has sought to remedy some of these acts of gross miscarriage of justice, but something more fundamental, something more far-reaching, needs to be done. The system is crying for a radical overhaul in terms of the procedural law in particular, and the sanctions to be applied following conviction. O
ne such important statutory intervention would definitely help bring sanity into the criminal justice system and therefore ease the congestion in the prisons. I refer to the issue of non-adoption of proceedings in partly-heard criminal cases. I propose the adoption of proceedings in partly heard criminal cases as is the case in civil cases, if not on a wholesale basis for all offences, certainly in relation to a large number of criminal cases which are heard in the lower courts. I have no doubt that trials de novo are clearly disadvantageous to stakeholder participation in the criminal justice delivery system.
My Lord Chairman, the Justice For All programme, which has evolved over the years has been through a number of structural changes. The process has been structured to address nagging the problem of accused persons who are held in pre-trial detention for long periods, often on expired warrants.
The process through which cases are selected for these special court sittings is quite robust. This process is well-structured and transparent and hence cannot be manipulated or compromised to a large extent. I would propose that we come out with a manual or handbook on which the programme would operate.
The official remand list from specific prisons, which is obtained from the Prison Headquarters, is vetted by the Remand Review Task Force, made up of the four key institutions (AG, Judiciary, Police, and Prisons) in accordance with laid down selection criteria for each category of offence.
The approved list from the Remand Review Task Force is then submitted to the Defence team for remand prisoners (made up of lawyers and paralegals), to enable them to interview the selected remand prisoners and draft applications/motions for them.
The motions are appropriately filed at the Registry of the Regional High Court, for service on the concerned staff of the AG and the Judges, prior to the court sitting. Copies of these motions or applications are also kept for record purposes and for future reference.
My Lord Chairman, there is one matter of grave concern I would like to address briefly. Media reports suggest that some members of the public see the Justice for All Programme as a vehicle for releasing suspected criminals on to the streets.
I find this situation rather disturbing and unfortunate because the Justice for All Courts is courts of competent jurisdiction that follows due process. The determinations made by these courts must be respected by all, including investigators who fail to enforce them by their failure to enforce decisions on bail, in particular, granted by these courts.
We must bear in mind that the Justice for All Programme is beneficial to the vulnerable and poor, who find themselves in detention, for one reason or the other, and who are unable to afford the legal fees and so for some them they self-represent or remain unrepresented.
Nonetheless, their rights at law must be protected. We have a collective duty to ensure their rights are fully respected. They are deemed innocent until proven guilty.
Have we thought of those who end up being proven NOT GUILTY after trial? How do we compensate them for their, financial, psychological, emotional and sometimes physical harm arising from wrongful pre-trial incarceration?
I will, therefore, entreat the media to be circumspect in their reportage by ensuring that stories are verified before publication in order not to undermine the rule of law.
To the contrary, I would entreat the media to educate the public fully on what this programme seeks to achieve so as to enhance public trust and confidence in the justice system. This is the way to build strong and lasting institutions.
The Justice for All Programme is a unique model in Africa, where legal aid Pro Bono services are virtually non-existent. Through it, we take justice to the marginalised and unrepresented remand prisoner.
My Lord Chair, available statistics indicates that since the inception of the programme in 2007, out of a total of three thousand, two hundred and ninety-three (3,293) inmates who have appeared before the Justice for All courts, six hundred and two (672) were discharged, nine hundred and eighty-five (985) were granted bail and one hundred and thirty-five (135) were convicted.
Other applicants who have had their applications rejected had their expired warrants renewed to enable them to appear before the various trial courts for the commencement of their trials.
Others have also referred to psychiatric hospital for medical examination and treatment. As a result, “locked and forgotten” remand prisoners are no longer in existence. This will continue to be the situation for as long as the Justice for All programme lives. Let me also add that the Programme has saved millions of public funds in terms of the feeding grant of GHC180.00 the government spends on a prisoner daily.
This achievement is undoubtedly the result of the cooperation of all the stakeholders within the criminal justice system but more importantly, as a result of funding received from international bodies such as DANIDA, UNDP, USAID, Star Ghana, DFID/ the British High Commission and the European Union, just to mention a few.
I also wish to commend NGOs such as Churchill, POS Foundation, HelpLaw, the GIMPA Law Faculty and some public spirited individual Lawyers for their indefatigable contribution towards the sustenance of the programme. In the absence of these NGOs, most remand prisoners would have continued to languish in the various prison facilities nationwide.
My Lord Chair, permit me to mention that the detention conditions prevailing in the country’s prisons are deplorable and an affront to human dignity. Health conditions, characterised by a plethora of communicable diseases, inadequate ventilation, poor sanitation, poor food and many others, as portrayed by the two documentaries (“Locked and Forgotten” and “Left to Rot”) produced by Seth Kwame Boateng of JoyFM in March 2015 and June 2016 is the clearest testimony to these.
The Judiciary is committed to ensuring that the programme serves the justice needs of our people positively. From our records, especially, judging from the monthly returns on remand prisoners, I can say, with conviction and certainty that the remand population has reduced, thanks to the programme. The time has now come for us to do more as we await that glorious day when other interventions, would bring the situation under strict control.
I wish to congratulate all of you here present for your contributions to the success of the Justice for All Programme on the achievement chalked so far and highly commend your efforts. I encourage you to use this workshop as a forum to identify the strengths, weaknesses, and the way forward, bearing in mind plans for its continuity, sustainability, and maximum impact.
I wish you a successful deliberation.