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Ghana: Resource Legal Aid Scheme to Deliver

24 August 2012   By Daily Guide

There is this firmly ingrained notion among a section of the populace that in Ghana justice is meant only for the rich and not the poor. The idea is not a baseless one, for it is predicated on facts and instances which the proponents are acquainted with, some of which are personal. Often times one comes across the comment, If s/he had paid for the services of a good lawyer, s/he would not have lost the case.

It is indeed sad and disturbing to hear such remarks in a country whose motto is Freedom and Justice, an inscription accompanying our National Coat of Arms, and conspicuously engraved on the towering Independence Arc beside the Independence Square (or is it now Black Star Square as portrayed on GTV during the Prof. Atta Mills? funeral ).

The framers of the 1992 Constitution envisioned for our motherland a free and just society where all citizens would be equal before the law regardless of one?s economic status, gender, religion, ethnicity, political affiliation and other similar factors which can affect the delivery of justice. Indeed Article 17(1) stipulate: All persons shall be equal before the law? and Article 17(2) provides in unambiguous terms that A person shall not be discriminated against on grounds of gender, race, colour, ethnic origin, religion, creed or social or economic status.

To give practical meaning to this democratic canon, we created for ourselves the Legal Aid Scheme to offer free legal services, including the services of lawyers to persons who lack the wherewithal to hire lawyers, to pursue their cases in court. As captured in the piece headlined Legal aid: A difficult promise to keep, Parliament in 1997 passed Act 542, which established a scheme for regulating legal aid, as well as creating a board to oversee the application of the law. The board receives applications for legal aid and decides who qualifies for waived fees. The board also oversees lawyers who are either selected by the board to provide aide, obligated to do national service, or recommended by regional lists of available lawyers.

But as eloquently captured in the write-up, the Legal Aid System is constrained by numerous challenges, rendering the scheme virtually dysfunctional. Hence the poor, for whom the Scheme was created, cannot even access its services. The Scheme is bereft of the requisite number of lawyers, hence the dearth of numbers needed to assist the poor. It can only be found in the regional capitals, thus depriving those in the fringes of cities of the required services, among similarly weighty challenges. In the face of such daunting and frustrating challenges, no matter how Mr Al-Hassan Yahaya Seini, Director of Legal Aid, and his team will resolve to do their best their best will not be good enough for the delivery of justice to the poor.

It has been stated umpteenth times that Ghana is noted for fashioning good laws, but the snag is invariably with implementation of these laws. Public Agenda identifies with the framers of our Constitution that nobody should be disadvantaged, especially the poor, as a result of lack of resources. The onus rests with the powers-that-be to employ all possible strategies and tactics to ensure that the Legal Aid Scheme deliver on its mandate. The Scheme should be resourced reasonably well to deliver on its mandate. It is high time the Legal Aid Week, which has been on the drawing board for all this while, was made a reality as it will raise the necessary awareness and generate the attention it deserves in the minds of the populace.

It is the responsibility of the State to ensure that the Legal Aid Scheme does not suffer death, as such a fate will signify the tolling of the death knell for equal justice to the poor; thereby defeating ends of justice as envisaged by the Constitution.

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