Of the many seminal initiatives and reforms currently being implemented in the country, one of the most important must be the ‘Access to Justice’ programme that has been taking shape since last year.
Formally launched on Wednesday, this initiative by the Ministry of Justice, seeks 'to bring justice delivery to the doorstep of the public, especially women, the poor and the under-privileged'.
We note with satisfaction that, among other things, the programme is focusing on the decongestion of prisons.
Under the programme, the Judicial Service sets up a court in a prison to consider cases of people who have been on remand for a long time. Thankfully, through this innovation, some remand prisoners have been able to regain their freedom.
We interpret the launch to mean that the programme’s pilot stage is over and thus it is on course to being replicated all over the country as a permanent, and very welcome, feature of the justice system.
We find it especially encouraging that the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Mr Joe Ghartey, said at the ceremony that the programme’s research findings on problems preventing the vulnerable from seeking justice will be incorporated into the country’s laws.
In our opinion, the programme represents an anchor of hope for the many vulnerable in the society who have very little access to, or even information on how to attain justice.
It is also a fact that for the vulnerable in the society, even when they know their rights there are impediments, such as money and officials who are protecting their own interest or protecting their colleagues who may have wronged the vulnerable.
This is why in this era of rights, instances of police brutality and impunity against defenceless civilians, for example, keep occurring when they are the very people the defenceless should be able to look up to for protection.
We agree absolutely with Mr Ghartey’s view that the law should be seen as a tool for development and not for abuse of human rights and oppression, and that 'access to justice is a fundamental human right that should not be undermined.'
However, one factor that undermines access to justice is ignorance. The best laws will be of little use to those who need its protection if they are ignorant about those laws.
We urge the Access to Justice programme to look into the possibility of giving funds to the National Commission on Civic Education so that it can help educate the people on the programme.
We are also happy that the German Ambassador to Ghana, Dr Marius Haas, reiterated his government’s readiness to support Ghana in her quest to provide access to justice for all.
Best of all, is the assurance that Deputy Attorney General and Minister of Justice Mr Kwame Osei Prempeh gave to the Ghanaian Times: 'We are going to address the shortcomings in the law so that women and the vulnerable can properly access justice.'
Addressing shortcomings in the laws of the land will benefit more than one or two groups of people; the whole society will be the beneficiaries.
So we hope that this is a promise we can count on the Ministry to keep.