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.
REPORT ON INTERNSHIP PROGRAM (JULY-SEPTEMBER)
The administration of justice has been trumpeted unendingly to be of grave importance in every society. Attainingthis includes providing to every person equal access to the law. Moreso, it involves the guarantee of legal representation to persons in judicial proceedings. This is especially so in criminal proceedings, where the life and or freedom of an accused person is at stake. Pursuant to the need for providing legal representation particularly to the indigent accused person in Ghana, Mr. Eric Delanyo Alifo founded HelpLaw Ghana.
HelpLaw Ghana is a non-governmental organization established to provide “true legal aid to the poor”. Having identified the problem as the absence of legal assistance to indigent accused persons when they are arrested, charged, and prosecuted by the State, Mr. Eric Delanyo Alifo through the machinery of HelpLaw Ghana has soughtto provide free legal and related services to such indigents. It however became necessary to augment the work force of the organization so as to complement the founder’s efforts at fulfilling the vision of HelpLaw Ghana. Consequently, an internship program was set up.
The internship program was sponsored by the Leitner Center for International Law and Justice through Prof. PaoloGalizzi, a professor of Fordham Law School, New York City. Under the program, three (3) interns were recruited. The internship program spanned a period of three (3) months i.e. July, August and September.
This report is in sections captured as follows:
1. Internship Activities
2. Impact of Internship Program on Interns
The program commenced on the 1st of July, 2013. The activities engaged in include court attendance, the draftand review of documents and legal research and discussions.
1. Court Attendance:
Our main occupation at the commencement of the program was to attend and observe court proceedings. Gradually,we practically understood the processes involved in criminal proceedings such as taking of the plea of the accused persons, examination in chief and cross examinations and application for bail. We also familiarized ourselves withcriminal appeal processes. In addition to understanding the court process, we also got acquainted with the substantive laws such as the Criminal and Other Offences Act, 1960 (Act 29) and the Narcotic Drugs (Control Enforcement and Sanctions) Law 1990 PNDCL 236. Often, after court proceedings, we discussed the cases with Mr. Eric Delanyo Alifo. By so doing, we were apprised of the facts of the case and the laws regulating it. We also made suggestions where they became necessary.
2. Draft and Review of Documents:
During the program, we helped in drafting and reviewing legal documents such as motions, written submissions, andapplications for bail and appeals for mitigation of sentences. By so doing, we appreciated how the law regulates the form and format of these documents. Reviewing the case documents enabled us to determine the status of the case with ease. As a result of this, we prepared a simple excel document for tracking the development of cases.
3. Legal Research and Discussions:
As part of our activities, we occasionally undertook legal research under varied topics. One of such researchbordered on the review jurisdiction of the Supreme Court of Ghana, which research is still pending. Another such research relates to the attempted exportation of narcotic drug. Undertaking these researches contributed to ourwidening understanding of the law.
As aforementioned, we often discussed cases, whether concluded or pending with Mr. Eric Delanyo Alifo. Whatis more, we occasionally broadened the topics for discussion. An example is the discussion we had on the review jurisdiction of the Supreme Court of Ghana, where varied views were expressed as to whether or not the review jurisdiction of the Supreme Court should be retained. This discussion was notwithstanding the fact that the issue had been addressed by the Constitution Review Committee in their report.
IMPACT OF INTERNSHIP PROGRAM ON INTERNS:
Generally, our participation in the internship program has afforded us a better appreciation of the law and of the legal profession. Indeed, we better appreciate the scope of our criminal jurisprudence. Being ourselves aspiring lawyers, this program has provided us a good grounding in the profession especially in the criminal facet of it. Furthermore, working under the supervision of Mr. Eric Delanyo Alifo has helped us understand the essence of undertaking what is known in the legal field as pro bono rather than overly concentrating on generating money. We have acquired the required skills needed in meeting with accused persons knowing that they are innocent until proven guilty. An impact worth mentioning is that of social networking. Having worked together for three months, we have gotten acquaintedwith each other.
Although largely successful, a few challenges were encountered and these are enumerated as follows:
1. Limited Supply of Legal Materials
HelpLaw Ghana, as an organization has a limited supply of relevant legal materials such as academic writings andlaw reports. This has affected researches and preparation of cases.
2. Sole Lawyer
The organization has a sole lawyer who doubles as its founder, Mr. Eric Delanyo Alifo. This poses a challenge when the number of cases to be handled at a time becomes overwhelming. This may result in his inability to take on new cases at certain times.
3. Limited Funding
Indeed every organization requires adequate funding to work successfully at attaining its objectives. However, we have observed that HelpLaw Ghana, despite its applaudable efforts at helping indigent accused persons is attracting little or no funds. This has restricted the extent to which the vision of the organization has been attained.
In view of the above enumerated challenges, we make the following recommendations:
1. We recommend that steps be taken towards procuring useful legal materials for the organization. We therefore implore individuals and corporate bodies to support HelpLaw Ghana in this respect.
2. We also recommend that individuals, corporate bodies, governmental and non-governmental agencies assist HelpLaw Ghana in recruiting personnel to strengthen its workforce.
3. Financial investment in the organization is key. This is chiefly because the recommendations made can largely be attained by the availability of funds.
4. We also recommend that a HelpLaw Ghana Journal be published on quarterly basis to educate the public on their rights with respect to criminal justice and also make known the activities of HelpLaw Ghana.
We duly acknowledge Leitner Center for International Law and Justice for sponsoring this program. We alsoacknowledge Prof. Paolo Galizzi, through whom the sponsorship from the Leitner Centre was made possible. We are similarly grateful to Mr. Eric Delanyo Alifo for his tutelage throughout this period. He has kindly shared with us his deep knowledge of criminal law. He defied all odds to found HelpLaw Ghana and subsequently saw this internship program through. Quite interestingly, we acknowledge each other for being helpful workmates.
NAMES OF INTERNS:
1. Jacob Chakuri Biniti
2. Linus Dzatashie
3. Eunice Yayra Loh
During the period in review, more than 13 trials are going on in various courts in which the Founder of HelpLaw is representing 17 indigent accused persons. Also during the period, HelpLaw pleaded for mitigation of sentences for more than 15 convicts, whose sentences have been reduced to various levels, and some completely cancelled. HelpLaw has also secured bail for more than 16 suspects. At the High Court, Human Rights Division, HelpLaw got an inmate discharged from prison after being on remand for 4 years on a charge of Abetment of Crime because he had been seen with another person who was carrying a firearm. He was never brought to trial since his arrest on October 17th, 2009. Even when a lower court had struck out the case against him; he remained in prison for another year because no order as to discharge had been made until HelpLaw Ghana intervened to get him freed.
In the last 3 months, HelpLaw Ghana—with the assistance of the Leitner Center for International Law and Justice of Fordham Law School in New York—was able to hire 3 interns and an administrative secretary to assist the Founder in the organization’s activities. Three of the interns are law students at various stages of their education in law faculties in Ghana. They have been providing tremendous support for the organization. Sadly, the three-month sponsorship of the internship program ends at the end of September and it is unimaginable how the Founder shall carry all the tasks alone all over again due to lack of funding to attract others.
HelpLaw Ghana is trying very hard to maintain an up-to-date good status on the GlobalGiving platform. This resulted in its selection by the Silicon Valley Community Foundation to receive donations on behalf of the Foundation’s donors and employees. Silicon Valley Community Foundation is presently vetting the documentation of HelpLaw Ghana to determine our eligibility to receive the desperately needed donations.
HelpLaw Ghana is still struggling to attract the requisite funding to make a major impact. When it was founded, the Founder had only his expertise, a laptop, and a small printer. He worked from home and consulted clients in court, at the police cells, and in the prisons. However, he did not relent; he pressed on with the vision.
The vision remains alive; the idea is clear; the expertise is available; and the determination is intact. What we are lacking are resources to make a major break-through. Once the necessary funding is acquired, there shall be a giant leap to engage all the requisite skilled and non-skilled personnel, both permanent and temporary; there shall be immediate acquisition of necessary equipment and resources; and there shall be a quick and swift expansion of our activities to reach more and more poor people who are suffering and crying for justice in all parts of Ghana.
When adequate funding is secured, we shall work to promote the respect and observance of human rights, good governance, democracy, and respect for the rule of law and due process. We shall embark on public education for awareness of the fundamental rights of citizens through conferences, workshops, seminars, articles and other publications, as well as through direct interaction with the general public. While we express our sincerest appreciation for your previous support, we wish to appeal to you that you can continuously be part of the vision and assist us to make the major impact that we desire.
We are most grateful.
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