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.
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