The Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) report on “Turn-around Time in Criminal Justice Administration in Ghana”, has recommended that the Ghana Bar Association (GBA) lead discussions on enacting and enforcing a Paralegal Act in Ghana.
The report said this would help improve access to justice delivery in the country.
A paralegal is an individual, qualified by education, training or work experience, who is employed or retained by a lawyer, law office, corporation, governmental agency, or other entity and who performs specifically delegated substantive legal work for which a lawyer is responsible.
Mr Alhassan Yahaya Seini, Executive Director, Legal Aid Commission, formally launched the report in Accra.
The objective of the study report is to produce an evidence-based report on the average turn-around time for cases referred by the Police to the Attorney General’s (AG) Department which would be used as an advocacy tool to support demands for improved case management structures to enhance justice delivery.
The report was based on monitoring exercise by CHRI which took place in only 14 police stations in Accra and Kumasi, from January to June this year, to determine the average turn-around time for cases referred to the AG’s Department for advice.
Mr Seini said in many instances people who were victims of pro-longed pre-trial detentions were individuals who could not afford the lawyer’s services.
He said for the people who find themselves in custody pending advice and trial, there was a lot of work to be done to ensure that the constitutional requirements of fair trial and expeditious justice within a reasonable period, for the people, was achieved.
Mr Seini said this could not be achieved if as a country we were going to rely on only lawyers to provide legal assistance to those who needed such services; adding that “we need to get people who are trained in the law, but not necessarily lawyers and as well capable of providing assistance”.
He said it was possible to train non-lawyers to assist people to ensure that justice was not for only those who could afford.
Mr Seini said legal services should not be made the preserve of the privileged ones in the society.
Ms Mina Mensah, the Head of Africa Office, CHRI, said one of the factors that has contributed to the delay of cases was lack of coordinated communication between agencies precisely the Police, the AG Department and the Judiciary; and even with the case tracking system which was being implemented, it was still not complete.
She cited an example where if a suspect was supposed to go to court and the individual fails to appear several times, how would the judge know what was happening? Adding that, in other jurisdictions if the suspect does not appear before the court, it would be triggered in the system.
Ms Mensah said CHRI decided to embark on the pilot project to track the cases at the level of the police stations, to find out where the dockets were, how many cases were in the system and how long it takes for response to get back to the police, so prosecution could start.
She said this informed the need to prepare a document to help change some of these points, whiles as a country we waited for the case tracking system to be fully implemented.
Ms Esi Dentaa Yankah, a representative of the AG’s Department, said the Department works within standard operating procedures to ensure that the requisite attention was paid to every docket that was received.
She said the efficacy of these measures in ensuring speedy disposal of docket was, however, minimized by problem of inadequate numbers of lawyers to handle the volume of dockets offered for review.
Others are problems of limited resources for the constrained attorneys at work and obstructive bureaucracy.
The report recommended that the bureaucratic channels through which dockets were passed must be revised.
It suggested that there should be maximum cooperation and communication among the institutions and stakeholders involved in forwarding and reviewing of dockets along the various levels.
It recommended that more legal practitioners be afforded the required training to supplement the increasing demand of legal services in the country.
The report said official ways of using private communication channels like phone calls and emails should be structured to authorize their usage.