Remand prisoners at the Nsawam Prison heaved a sigh of relief when 10 special court sessions were held at the prison to review their cases, some of which have been pending for 10 years.

At the end of the exercise, which was carried out under the auspices of the Justice For All Project, 27 remand prisoners regained their freedom.

Other remand prisoners were granted bail, some were convicted and sentenced while a few cases were adjourned to the next hearing scheduled for June 22.

There were 2,356 male remand prisoners at the Nsawam Prison alone when auditing of remand prisoners was carried out in 2007.

The Justice for All Programme, dubbed ‘the Remand Review Project’, was initiated in 2007 to enhance justice delivery and foster the adherence to human rights.

A collaborative effort among the Attorney General’s Department, Centre for Human and Civil Liberties (CHURCIL), a non-governmental organisation, the Ghana Police Service, Prison Service, and the Ghana Bar Association (GBA), the Remand Review Project is also a mechanism intended to decongest the prisons.

Performing the opening session, Chief Justice, Mrs Georgina Wood, observed that the high population of remand prisoners was a clear indication that the Judiciary had breached some provisions of the 1992 Constitution.

“Each one of us actively engaged in the administration of criminal justice has contributed to this anomalous situation. For this reason, the responsibility lies on us to collaboratively work to find a concrete solution to this problem, which sadly thus constitutes a blot on our human right records,” she said:

According to her, the Judiciary, among other stakeholders and the general public, breached Articles 19(1) and (2) (c) of the 1992 Constitution, which provided some rights of an accused person before being judged.

The articles state that “(1) A person charged with a criminal offence shall be given a fair hearing within a reasonable time by a court”, while (2) (c) states that “A Person charged with criminal offence shall be presumed innocent until he is proved or has pleaded quilty.”

She further explained that in criminal jurisprudence, there were two types of offences, which demanded intervention by the courts prior to the commencement of the actual trial.

The types of offences, she said, were the bailable and the non-bailable offences.

Justice Wood said the basic requirement of any trial court before which an accused person had been arraigned for trial in a criminal case was to ensure that the person, if released on bail, would appear on the adjourned date to stand trial.

“There is no reason why a court must remand an accused person in custody, pending trial if there are no valid reasons showing that such a person will not appear to stand trial,” she said.

She added that the real challenge, however, occurred during the non-bailable offences such as robbery, murder, narcotics, rape and defilement.

Justice Wood said that even so the courts had held that notwithstanding the ouster of the time-honoured discretionary power to grant bail in such cases, bail would nonetheless be granted whenever it was demonstrated that there had been unreasonable delay in the trial or where the facts presented upon arraignment did not support the offence with which the accused had been charged.

The Chief Justice appreciated the need for Ghana to take her constitutional responsibilities seriously to ensure that criminal justice was delivered for the benefit of all.

She mentioned safety, security and stability as elements that constituted a country’s ability to nurture development and good governance and said Ghana was a highly respected nation of hope in Africa and, therefore, must demonstrate a clear and sustained commitment to the rule of law and human rights.

She advised officials of the Judiciary to turn down unlawful demands from the public and rather acknowledge their judicial oath to uphold and defend the Constitution of the nation to protect the rights of the citizens.

Chairman of the project, Justice Benjamin Teiko Aryettey, told journalists that the programme was expected to review 140 cases of prisoners whose dockets had been provided by the police within the 2009/10 legal year.

Explaining the rationale to carry out the exercise at the prison, Deputy Director in charge of the Nsawam Prison, Mr Chris Larvie, said that the lack of vehicles to transport prisoners to the various courts was one of the logistic challenges faced by the prison service.

A Supreme Court judge, Justice Rose Owusu, expressed the need for a special exercise under the project for female remand prisoners, explaining that, “We did not intentionally forget them, but only had the impression from the police that there was none”.

Source:Daily Graphic