New lawyers must do national service – CJ

The Chief Justice, Mrs Justice Georgina Theodora Wood, has proposed that newly enrolled lawyers be posted to do national service at various police stations and District Assemblies in the country.

She said the idea was to enable the lawyers to provide free legal services for indigent or poor persons arrested for crimes to protect their human rights and achieve fair trial.

Mrs Justice Wood made the proposal in a speech read on her behalf by a Supreme Court judge. Mr W.A. Atuguba at the opening of a sub-regional conference on access to justice for indigent arrested persons in West Africa in Accra on Monday.

Organised by the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) Africa Office, the two-day conference is on the theme, “Knowledge building through experience sharing”, and is attended by legal practitioners and security experts from Ghana, Nigeria, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

The conference is to enable the participants to share experiences of legal assistance services for indigent arrested persons, particularly in the area of legal representation.

Mrs Justice Wood noted that upon arrest, access to legal services depended on an individual’s ability to engage the services of a lawyer, which was the preserve of the affluent.

She said much abuse of the person’s fundamental human rights could occur upon arrest, with dire legal consequences on the fair trial of the person arrested.

“The legal limits, of the power of arrest, such as the duty to be informed of the cause of the arrest, the right to silence, freedom from unnecessary force, the right to be sent to a lawful place of custody without delay, etc, are largely illusory to the poor,” Mrs Justice Wood said.

The Chief Justice expressed worry that in Ghana, except for the local branch of the International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA), “it is not a matter of common likelihood for a private legal practitioner, upon learning of or even seeing a person attested, to intervene pro bono”.

Therefore, she said, the newly enrolled lawyers on national service could inform the poor arrested people of their rights under the law and seek fair justice for them.

She again asked the Ghana Bar Association (GBA) to begin publicising monthly or periodic legal aid programmes for the public.

She called for the revival of the radio programme called “Radio Lawyer” in which experienced lawyers treated various hypothetical legal cases for the benefit of the public.

Mrs Justice Wood said contact addresses could be posted on websites created for the purpose of legal aid or made available to radio stations for access to the public.

She said lawyers who offered free legal services could be given incentives and awards as a form of motivation, noting that the importance of ensuring access to fair justice, particularly criminal justice, in the world had been dramatically underscored by current events.

“It is common knowledge that one of the key sources of discontent with systems of governance that have triggered pent up mass revolts in northern Africa is the lack of fair access, particularly to criminal justice delivery,” she stressed.

She lamented that high poverty and illiteracy rate in West Africa hindered access to effective justice delivery in the sub-region.

The Chief Justice said the Legal Aid Scheme instituted in Ghana was well intended but heavily weighed down by several problems.

She said under the Justice for all Programme, many people languishing in jails ad been freed.

Source: Daily Graphic/Ghana