The Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI), Africa Office is leading advocacy to review Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) Act, 2010 (Act 798) and Legal Aid Commission (LAC) Act, 2018 (Act 977).
The passage of the ADR Act was to facilitate and encourage out-of-court settlement of disputes to ease congestion in the court.
However, congestion in the courts and its associated problems remain a major problem affecting justice delivery in the country.
Madam Nahaja Adams, a Programme Officer, CHRI, an implementing partner of the USAID Justice Sector Support Activity said Ghana’s Prisons were overcrowded as a result of sentencing people, who committed petty offences.
Madam Adams was speaking to the GNA on the sidelines of a stakeholders’ roundtable discussion on the need to review both laws to include petty offences. The event, which was organised by the CHRI, was part of the USAID Justice Sector Support Activity.
The discussions were to increase awareness on the need for the ADR Act and Legal Aid Commission Act to be reviewed in line with the ever-changing times of the world and advocate for acceptance of Victim Offender Mediation as the preferred ADR process for the resolution of petty criminal offences.
It is also to increase advocacy to promote the drawing up of formal court connected victim offender-mediation rules.
“ADR helps to decongest the prisons primarily and with petty offences, they are not very serious crimes and can be settled. But you find a lot of people in jail because of these offences,” she added.
She said instead of prosecuting the victim as always, there could be a victim offender mediation, where both the victim and offender get to talk about the crime which would lead to restoration for the victim.
Madam Nahaja said ADR for minor criminal offences was more beneficial for the victims of the crime, adding that Section 73 of the Courts Act, 1993 (Act 459), does not make the use of ADR mandatory for a Judge but discretionary.
“It was for these reasons that we want the review, where it could be made mandatory for judges to refer some of these cases for the ADR process,” she said.
The Programme Officer said it was the view of CHRI that the criminal cases should be serialised and those deemed to be petty offences be settled at the police station, with trained police personnel as mediators.
Ghana’s criminal justice system is plagued with challenges such as issues of overcrowding in prisons and detention facilities, unreasonable delays in administering of justice caused by frequent adjournments and slow processing of documents due to a high caseload in courts and limited access to legal aid services largely by the marginalised, poor, and vulnerable.
These challenges and many more necessitated the enactment of the Alternative Dispute Resolution Act, 2010, (Act 798) and Legal Aid Commission (LAC) Act, 2018, (Act 977) meant to ease the burdens of the courts, and invariably decongest the prisons.
Over the years, the State has initiated several reform processes to improve or resolve these challenges and these include both Acts.
Although the reform processes have contributed to some progress in the justice sector, the State is not fully benefiting from some of the initiatives introduced.