HelpLaw Ghana Hugely Impacts the Criminal Justice System of Ghana in 2014
As a result of some sponsorship in 2014, we were able to get a few lawyers to take up pro bono cases for HelpLaw Ghana, for which some honorarium was given to each at the end of every month after a number of cases have been reported. By the close of the year, we have represented over 73 indigent accused persons who would otherwise have been dragged through judicial proceedings without legal representation and thereby denied justice.
In addition to the above,the Founder of HelpLaw Ghana was personally involved in a "Justice for All Programme" that took him and a few other lawyers to the prisons of Kumasi, Tarkwa, Takoradi, Winneba, and Ankaful, where they secured the outright discharge, or bail for a large number of inmates, whose warrants had long expired, and many of who had been held on remand without trial between 4 and 10 years. Part of this programme took place during 2014 legal vacation, but extended into the period after the vacation and made it terribly difficult to combine it with the regular HelpLaw Ghana cases in the courts. There was no rest at all, but we were working to bring justice to the poor who are often neglected. Our vision lives on and we are not relenting.
Thank you all, family and friends, for the wonderful support some of you continue to give.
HelpLaw Ghana continues to offer its services to many indigent accused persons in the Ghana. Increasing numbers of the poor and less privileged Ghanaians are receiving legal representation from part-time pro bono lawyers engaged by HelpLaw Ghana. This report presents a brief account of the activities undertaken in the third quarter of 2014.
2. Media Outreach
The major media activity that began particularly, at the beginning of 2014 to create awareness of the abuses in the criminal justice system, and the presence of HelpLaw Ghana to assist the poor and vulnerable is continuing. These initiatives paid off tremendously in the recent past to the extent that court Registrars and Judges are taking notice of our activities and are referring indigent to us for assistance.
3. Court Work
Our bro bono lawyers are presently representing over 60 indigent accused persons, who are too poor to hire lawyers to defend them. The courtsusuallygo on legal vacation from August to the early part of October. The greater part of this quarter fell within this period thereby slowing work generally. We could not do the cases that were pending at the superior courts due to the legal vacation. We have had to confine our activities to the lower courts and some selected high courts that were still sitting. However, we have also used the time to review some cases and files and visit some of our clients at the detention centers.
4. Other activities
Helplaw Ghana has also been collaborating with other sister organizations to realize to provide legal services to the poor. The Founder has been sharing his time and ideas with other bodies operating in the justice system. Currently, HelpLaw Ghana is assisting the X Foundation to free some remand prisoners who have been in detention for more than three years without trial in prisons all over Ghana.
HelpLaw Ghana remains committed to this vision. We look forward to extending our services to other parts of Ghana as soon as we acquire reasonable sponsorship. We are seriously preparing to launch another seminar before the end of this year as part of the OSIWA support. Our only worry is that the funding we received from OSIWA which has enabled us to embark on these great projects is only for one year. We are not sure how the following year is going to be for the organization; however, we are not perturbed. We are determined to push the vision through. We hope we can continue to count on your generosity as we move forward.
HelpLaw Ghana has extended access to justice to many more indigent accused persons in the second quarter of 2014 than in the first quarter of the year. Increasing numbers of the poor and less privileged Ghanaians are receiving legal representation from part-time pro bono lawyers engaged by HelpLaw Ghana. This report presents a brief account of the activities undertaken in the second quarter of 2014.
2.1. Symposium on Criminal Justice System of Ghana
On June 19, 2014, HelpLaw Ghana organized an impressive symposium on the criminal justice system of Ghana. It was intended to draw public attention to some of the weaknesses in the criminal justice system, which turn to abuse and oppress the rights of suspects, particularly those who are too poor to hire lawyers to represent them. The event was supported by the Open Society Initiatives of West Africa (OSIWA) and it was chaired by a distinguished Justice of Ghana's Supreme Court, Justice Jones Dotse. Other speakers included professors of law, the Founder of HelpLaw Ghana, and an innocent victim that had been on remand for fourteen years without trial. All the major media organizations including all the national television networks were present. The feedback received was encouraging and we look forward to organizing one more of such programs before the end of 2014. The link below is a report on the symposium by Ghana's most widely circulated newspaper, the Daily Graphic. Some photographs of the distinguished guests and participants are attached.
2.2. Media Outreach
In the course of the second quarter of 2014, HelpLaw Ghana carried out an extensive media outreach program, which included appearances of the Founder on national television and radio stations to educate the public on their rights and how to protect those rights. The media outreach has been very helpful n creating awareness of the activities of the organization as well. It poses a great challenge to us to organize to attend to the increasing number of the vulnerable and marginalized people who require our services. Our Founder has published an article in Ghana's most widely circulated newspaper and the article has been hailed in many quarters. It is accessible through the following link.
2.3. Case/ Court Work
The lawyers engaged by HelpLaw Ghana have continued to represent indigent accused persons in court. We are presently representing over 50 accused persons, who are poor and unable to hire lawyers for their defence and who would otherwise be going through trial without legal assistance. We have managed to make an impact such that judges have been directly contacting our offices to come to their courts to represent indigent accused persons. One of the ways this was achieved was through a letter we wrote to the Judicial Secretary in the Chief Justice's outfit to advice all the judges in Accra about our readiness to provide legal representation to the poor.
HelpLaw Ghana remains committed to its vision and towards a fulfilling third quarter. We look forward to extending our services geographically. The greatest danger we have is that the funding we received from OSIWA, which has enabled us to make a great deal of impact, is only for one year. We are not sure how the following year is going to be for the organization; however, we remain hopeful and determined to push the vision through no matter the odds. We shall continue to count on your generosity and love for justice for all humanity as we press on with the vision.
Towards the end of 2013, and after our GlobalGiving partners had kept faith with us to sustain the vision of HelpLaw Ghana to bring justice to the doorstep of even the poorest citizens who need the services of lawyers, a major help was acquired from OSIWA (Open Society Initiative for West Africa). OSIWA is an affiliate of the Open Society Foundations, based in New York. OSIWA has funded HelpLaw Ghana to the tune of about $80,000 for the year 2014.
With this major breakthrough, a lot more indigent accused persons are having access to justice. We have expanded our activities by engaging six new lawyers to provide pro bono services, for which we pay them a little honorarium at the end of each month. We now have six energetic lawyers working in all the courts in Ghana wherever they would find accused persons who are too poor to hire lawyers to defend them. The lawyers do not work full time for HelpLaw Ghana; however, each of them is expected to represent about 5 indigent accused persons in each month to qualify for our "thank you envelope."
We are not relenting in our vision to ensure that justice is not denied any person in Ghana because that person is too poor to hire the services of a lawyer. We have written to the top hierarchy of the judiciary in Ghana to advise all judges to call us whenever they have accused persons in front of them without lawyers representing them. We are using the funding we have to improve the facilities in our office and embark on a public education in the media to give greater access at a congenial environment to those who need our services. We are still counting on your continuous support to sustain our dream and expand beyond the capital city of Ghana. To appreciate the vision better, we wish to refer you to parts of our previous report, which contained the following from an Amnesty International report.
"Many prisoners interviewed by Amnesty International said they had not had a lawyer during their trial. Some prisoners said that they only met their court-appointed lawyer on the day of the trial; others that their lawyer did not appear interested in the case. Still other prisoners raised the problem of lack of money to initiate an appeal.
In the words of one prisoner, "unless you have money to take appeal then you stay in.” The Committee against Torture has expressed concern at "the very limited number of legal aid defence lawyers which precludes many defendants from obtaining legal counsel." Legal representation can be an important safeguard against unfair trials and lengthy pre-trial detention. Under international standards, suspects have the right to defend themselves or be represented by a lawyer of their choosing, and to receive free legal assistance if they do not have sufficient funds to pay. (Page 14 of AI report, “Prisoners are Bottom of the pile” The Human Rights of Inmates in Ghana.
"People here are perishing because of the lack of a lawyer." -- Joseph, an inmate in his 30s:
On page 6 of the same report, the following was provided:
“I had a lawyer that my family paid for, but I don’t have money to make an appeal. Another woman was pregnant and appealed and got out…I just don’t want to be here. I want to go home. My child is my problem. I want to go home.” -- Nana, a pregnant woman in her 20s with an 11-month-old baby at home, serving a four year sentence for petty theft.
These extracts further highlight the flaws in the criminal justice system of Ghana, some of which have been discussed at the official site of HelpLaw Ghana, www.help-law.org We hope we can always count on your support.
Thanks a lot.
Towards the end of the year 2013, a lot more accused persons and their families had heard about HelpLaw Ghana. The organization received more calls for legal assistance to indigent accused persons. While more than 10 trials were going on and at various stages in different courts, it was extremely difficult for the sole lawyer and Founder of the organization to attend to the many requests received by the organization.
Fortunately or unfortunately, things slowed down to a little extent just before Christmas when the courts have gone on break for the holidays. During this period, HelpLaw Ghana is preparing to mobilize funding from various sources to increase its activities and cover a lot more people who are being denied justice by a flawed criminal justice system. To appreciate the problem HelpLaw Ghana is trying to resolve, our donors are referred to the following passage extracted from a report published by Amnesty International in 2012.
"People here are perishing because of the lack of a lawyer"
Joseph, an inmate in his 30s:
The majority of inmates are too poor to easily afford private legal services, and court appointed, pro-bono lawyers are few and overworked. Under the 1997 Legal Aid Scheme Act, anyone who earns less than the minimum wage is entitled to free legal aid. In addition, the Legal Aid Board can decide to offer legal aid to anyone they think requires it. Many prisoners interviewed by Amnesty International said they had not had a lawyer during their trial. Some prisoners said that they only met their court-appointed lawyer on the day of the trial; others that their lawyer did not appear interested in the case. Still other prisoners raised the problem of lack of money to initiate an appeal.
In the words of one prisoner, "unless you have money to take appeal then you stay in.” The Committee against Torture has expressed concern at "the very limited number of legal aid defence lawyers which precludes many defendants from obtaining legal counsel." Legal representation can be an important safeguard against unfair trials and lengthy pre-trial detention. Under international standards, suspects have the right to defend themselves or be represented by a lawyer of their choosing, and to receive free legal assistance if they do not have sufficient funds to pay. (Page 14 of AI report, “Prisoners are Bottom of the pile” The Human Rights of Inmates in Ghana).
These extracts further highlight the flaws in the criminal justice system of Ghana, some of which have been discussed at the official site of HelpLaw Ghana, https://www.help-law.org/2013/. While we are not relenting in pushing for our goals and vision, it is being extremely difficult to make the required impact as a result of very minimal or no funding at all. However, there is a great deal of hope that some major break-through shall come in the year 2014 when we shall move into a higher gear with public campaigns in the media, symposia, seminars, and lobbying for reform of the criminal justice system of Ghana. We are hoping that you shall continue to provide the necessary encouragement and support to us as we uplift our activities for increased impact. I thank you all.
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