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Akufo-Addo praises Godfred Dame for establishment of Legal Aid Commission Fund and Law Reform Commission Fund

By Melvin Tarlue || Contributor
General News Akufo-Addo praises Godfred Dame for establishment of Legal Aid Commission Fund and Law Reform Commission Fund
AUG 15, 2022 LISTEN

The President has praised the AG, Godfred Dame for ensuring that the Legal Aid Commission Fund and the Law Reform Commission Fund have been established.

The President, Nana Akufo Addo, said this at the launch of the Funds in Accra at the Law Court Complex Accra, on August 22, 2022.

The President said the Attorney General had been concerned about the financial status of some of the entities under the Ministry of Justice when he was even a deputy minister.

As stated by the Attorney General, the establishment of the two Funds would “lay the building blocks for the transformation of two very important institutions, whose mandate is crucial for enhancing access to justice delivery in Ghana and the modernization of the law in Ghana.”

Justice Jones Dotse who is acting as Chief Justice called on the Law Reform Commission to be mindful of the decisions of the Superior Courts in the execution of its mandate.

He pointed out that the judges were constantly making suggestions for law reform in their judgments.

AG's Remarks below:

REMARKS

BY

GODFRED YEBOAH DAME

HON. ATTORNEY-GENERAL & MINISTER FOR JUSTICE

AT THE

LAUNCH OF THE

LEGAL AID COMMISSION FUND

AND

LAW REFORM COMMISSION FUND

10 a.m.

Wednesday, 10th August, 2022,

Law Courts Complex,

Accra, Ghana.

HIS EXCELLENCY THE PRESIDENT OF THE REPUBLIC, NANA ADDO DANKWA AKUFO-ADDO

REPRESENTATIVE OF HIS LORDSHIP THE CHIEF JUSTICE, JUSTICE JONES DOTSE

JUSTICES OF THE SUPREME COURT AND JUSTICES OF OTHER SUPERIOR COURTS OF JUDICATURE

HONOURABLE MINISTERS OF STATE

FORMER ATTORNEYS-GENERAL

DEPUTY ATTORNEY-GENERAL AND DEPUTY MINISTER FOR JUSTICE

THE CHAIRMAN OF THE LEGAL AID COMMISSION, JUSTICE NENE AMEGATCHER AND DISTINGUISHED MEMBERS,

THE CHAIRMAN OF THE LAW REFORM COMMISSION, MR ANTHONY AKOTO AMPAW AND DISTINGUISHED MEMBERS

THE SOLICITOR-GENERAL,

EXECUTIVE DIRECTORS AND HEADS OF AGENCIES UNDER THE OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY-GENERAL AND MINISTRY OF JUSTICE

MEMBERS OF THE DIPLOMATIC CORPS, YOUR EXCELLENCIES

THE PRESIDENT OF THE GHANA BAR ASSOCIATION

LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, FRIENDS FROM THE MEDIA

I welcome you all warmly to this programme. Each one of you received the invitation at very short notice, in most cases, within one week to less than two days of today’s event. The Office of the Attorney-General and Ministry of Justice is sincerely grateful to you for your response.

For our special guest and the number one gentleman of the land, I cannot find the right words to convey my appreciation. He has been busy commissioning projects in the north of Ghana. I am deeply grateful to you, Your Excellency, for finding time to make it here this morning.

We are gathered here this morning to perform a function which I believe will lay the building blocks for the transformation of two very important institutions, whose mandate is crucial for enhancing access to justice delivery in this country and the modernisation of the law in Ghana. These institutions are the Legal Aid Commission and the Law Reform Commission. In order to place in proper context the importance of this morning’s activity, I will briefly say a few words about each of the 2 institutions and the current state of their affairs.

Mr President, the pillars of legal aid are laid in the Constitution itself. Even though legal aid had been in existence since 1987 by dint of the Legal Aid Scheme Law, 1987 (PNDCL 184), clauses 2 and 3 of article 294 of the Constitution, taking account OF the centrality of legal aid to the provision of access to justice for all persons in Ghana, reaffirmed legal aid by directing Parliament Ghana to enact laws providing for legal aid in matters it considered necessary, including the defence of the Constitution and other proceedings under the Constitution.

Pursuant to this, the erstwhile Legal Aid Scheme Act of 1997 (Act 542), was passed to ensure the effective operation of the scheme in consonance with the Constitution.

In 2018, in order to fully equip it as the leading agency delivering professional and quality legal services to the poor in society, a new Legal Aid Commission Act was passed and assented to by your good self, Mr. President. This law is the Legal Aid Commission Act, 2018 (Act 977). By this, the Legal Aid Scheme as it was previously called, became a Commission with full powers of a corporate body, including the capacity to enter into contracts on its own and to acquire movable and immovable property for the performance of its functions. The object of legal aid is to defend the indigent in society and provide free or inexpensive legal services to the underprivileged in various matters, civil or criminal.

Indeed, the structures for legal aid set out in Act 977, closely examined, provide a fresh, robust and sound scheme for the attainment of an efficient legal aid service. The new divisions required to be set up by the Commission – the Citizens Advisory Division, Public Defenders’ Division and the Alternative Dispute Resolution Division, quite clearly, are intended to provide a sturdy mechanism for the provision of comprehensive legal assistance to the poor in Ghanaian society in all cases.

I am of the firm conviction that, effectively harnessed, the legal aid scheme will be a solid platform for the achievement of equity, justice and fairness in Ghanaian society. On my working visit to the offices of the Legal Aid Commission in February this year, I indicated that my vision for the Commission is to assist in the development of a modern legal aid service, sufficiently resourced and armed with the requisite personnel to fully execute all of its constitutional and statutory functions.

Mr. President, sad to say, however, I realised that the Legal Aid Commission, like most institutions under the Office of the Attorney-General and Ministry of Justice, labours under dreadful infrastructural and logistical hardships for many decades. The temporary premises from which the Legal Aid Commission has been operating, which incidentally was found for it in 2001 (by dint of your industry when you were serving the nation as the Attorney-General), is now in a state of complete dilapidation. Further to this, it is woefully too small to accommodate the various offices and divisions of the Commission required by law to be set up. Meetings with clients of the Commission are held under tents erected outside and on the corridors of the office.

I gave my pledge to the Board Chairman, Justice of the Supereme Court, Mr. Nene Amegatcher, that after the completion of the Law House (the new office premises for the Office of the Attorney-General, the construction of which was again, quite remarkably, started in the tenure of the President when he served as Attorney-General in 2002, and which stalled for many years but by the Grace of God is set to be completed by the first quarter of next year), I will ensure that land is acquired for the construction of a permanent office for the Legal Aid Commission.

I must disclose that the plan to build a new permanent office for the Legal Aid Commission is also the vision of the President, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo. At the consideration of the budget proposals for the Ministry of Justice late last year when the issue of the budget for the Law House came up, the President himself suggested to me that I ought to start processes for the acquisition of land for the construction of permanent offices for all agencies under the Ministry of Justice and its regional offices, including the Legal Aid Commission.

As I found out on my working visit in February, 2022, the Commission had only six (6) vehicles which it acquired in 2007. This was so even though Legal Aid is to be provided throughout the country and the Commission is required to have a presence in every district of the country.

I committed myself to address the problems of all the agencies of the Office of the Attorney-General and Ministry of Justice including the Legal Aid Commission, and I am happy to note that, we are making headway. Pursuant to an urgent appeal for help I made to Cabinet in July 2021, in consequence of which the President directed the Finance Minister to intervene, the Office of the Attorney-General and Ministry of Justice recently acquired about 91 vehicles for all of its offices in the various regions of Ghana as well as the seven (7) agencies under the Ministry. Out of this, the Legal Aid Commission received 13 vehicles to shore up its fleet of vehicles from 6 to 19. It goes without saying that, having regard to the services the Commission is required to render to the indigent in society throughout the country, this is still inadequate. However, it represented a significant addition for the Commission.

The state of the Legal Aid Commission is clearly far from desirable. It is a sad reflection on our commitment as a nation, since 1987, to provide for the indigent and eliminate inequalities and injustice in society. In the words of Mahatma Ghandi, “a nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members”. The state of legal aid in Ghana since time immemorial clearly presents a challenge to the delivery of justice to the weak members of the Republic of Ghana.

Mr. President, in the face of all these severe challenges to legal aid, I noticed an avenue for relief through the law that established the Legal Aid Commission. Section 31 of Act 977 has prescribed the setting up of the Legal Aid Fund. The object of this statutory fund is obvious - to ensure the financial capacity of the Commission to efficiently and effectively carry out its mandate under Act 977. When established, section 34 of Act 977 requires for contributions to be lodged in an account opened solely for the Fund with the approval of the Controller and Accountant-General. The law requires the Board of the Commission to manage the Fund strictly for the attainment of the objects of the Commission. In my respectful view, this will deliver a long-lasting solution to the financial and logistical difficulties impeding an efficient legal aid service.

I trust the current Board of the Commission led by His Lordship Justice Nene Amegatcher, Justice of the Supreme Court as well as future boards, to come up with innovative means of ensuring that sufficient contributions, donations and grants are made to the Fund, for a smooth discharge of the noble objects of the Commission.

I turn my attention, quickly, to the Law Reform Commission.

Mr. President, in my tenure as Attorney-General so far, I have observed that the Law Reform Commission is the unsung hero of justice delivery in Ghana. The Law Reform Commission has been in existence since 1968. It performs the singular and noble object of promoting law reform in Ghana. In order to give life to the functions of the Commission, the Law Reform Commission Act, 2011 (Act 822) was passed. Section 4 of Act 822 requires the Commission to, among others, prepare and submit through the Minister for Justice, proposals for the examination of different aspects of the law, make practical recommendations for the development, simplification and modernisation of the law and obtain information on the legal systems of other countries that may facilitate the process of law reform in Ghana. I am strong in my conviction that properly assisted, the functions of the Law Reform Commission portend the capacity to positively aid in the socio-economic transformation of our Republic.

I have had the opportunity to examine some fruits of the work of the Law Reform Commission. A Bill for the reform of the law on Occupier’s Liability which was initiated by the Commission came to my attention recently. I have directed for same to be subjected to stakeholder engagements, as part of the process for legislative enactment. Indeed, the Law Reform Commission had a hand in the enactment of one important piece of legislation this year, which I believe will have far-reaching consequences for the criminal justice system in this country. This is the amendment to the Criminal and other Offences (Procedure) Act, 1960 (Act 30) to introduce plea bargaining into the trial of criminal cases in Ghana. The Board of the Law Reform Commission made a contribution to the development of this legislation, for which I am grateful.

At the inauguration of the Board of the Commission earlier this year, I tasked them to present proposals for a review of the current Criminal Procedure Act, Act 30, in order to aid in a real expeditious determination of summary trial of criminal cases. I consider the tendency for a summary trial to stay in a trial court for upwards of four years as unhealthy and defeatist of the constitutional imperative for a fair hearing within a reasonable time in article 19(1) of the Constitution. Together with the Office of the Attorney-General, the Law Reform Commission, among other things, is examining the possibility of an overhaul of Act 30, particularly, the possibility of barring interlocutory appeals which frustrate the speedy resolution of criminal trials.

Mr President, like many other institutions under the Ministry of Justice, has been struggling. During my last working visit to the offices of the Commission in February 2022, I found out that the Commission had only one vehicle – a pick-up truck which it acquired in 1996. Once again, out of the 91 vehicles recently acquired for all regional offices of the Attorney-General in the 16 regions of Ghana as well as all of its other agencies, I delivered 2 new vehicles to the Commission bringing its fleet to 3. It goes without saying that this is still inadequate.

The physical premises from which the Law Reform Commission operates is in a sorry state. The Commission is seriously understaffed and is unable to train lawyers to perform the functions it is tasked with.

Just like the Legal Aid Commission, the new law under which the Law Reform Commission was established, provides for a Fund to be set up. section 10 of Act 822 has prescribed for it, i.e. the setting up of the Law Reform Fund. Section 10 of Act 822 provides that the Fund will be managed by the Board and which will be used to undertake projects for the development and reform of laws, development of human resources in law reform and other purposes to be determined by the Board. Somehow, to date, the Law Reform Fund has not been set up. I have no doubt that, following the launch, the current Board led by Mr Anthony Akoto Ampaw will come up with innovative means of ensuring that sufficient contributions, donations and grants are made to the Fund, for a smooth discharge of the sublime objects of the Commission.

Mr President, this morning’s activity holds serious implications for justice delivery in Ghana. Legal Aid is a catalyst for equality, justice and fairness in society. The Law Reform Commission has the ability to transform the laws of Ghana in tune with modern trends.

I am grateful for the patronage we have received for this programme. Representatives of various institutions of state are here - the diplomatic corps, civil society organisations, various development partners and stakeholders in the work of the Office of the Attorney-General and Ministry of Justice, senior legal practitioners, former Attorneys-General. I am grateful for your attendance. Your generous contributions after the funds have been set up will greatly assist in the attainment of the objects of the two Commissions.

May I repeat, just for emphasis that, there are two separate statutory funds to be established today. They are permanent funds. You are encouraged to freely contribute to any or both of the funds as you desire. As the funds are permanent, individuals and institutions may commit themselves to make monthly or annual contributions. Lawyers may even decide to bequeath a part of their earthly possessions upon their death to the support of the Legal Aid Commission and the Law Reform Commission.

I am in no doubt that, the two funds will enjoy the maximum support of all.

Thank you. God bless us all!!!

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