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11.03.2009 General News

NGO to offer free legal services…to prisoners on remand

By Charles Takyi-Boadu - Ghanaian Chronicle

An independent Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO), the Centre for Human Rights and Civil Liberties (CHURCIL), has offered to provide free legal services to remand prisoners whose warrants have expired but continue to be held in the country's prisons without any justifiable cause.

This is in view of the fact that most of these remand prisoners cannot afford to engage the services of lawyers to defend them in court during their trial.

In an interview with this paper, the Executive Director of CHURCIL and Accra-based legal practitioner, Kojo Graham, emphasised that this would help to address issues of prisoner rights, prison over population and the problems of pre-trial detention that is currently facing the country.

A couple of years ago, the organisation launched and implemented what it labelled as the 'Aid-Remand Programme' (ARP) under the 'Access 2 Justice' project. Within the framework of the 'Access 2 Justice' project, the ARP falls under the general category of criminal justice and penal reform, which principal objective is to address the issues of prisoner rights, prison over-population and problems of pre-trial detention.

The ARP has been implemented in two parts; the 'Case Review Plan CRP) and Court Monitoring Plan (CMP).

The CRP has been fashioned to develop and implement a criterion for the review of criminal dockets of remanded prisoners nationwide on a graduated basis.

It has, therefore, put in place a mechanism to monitor new remand cases to propitiously provide the necessary legal assistance.

A key element of the 'Aid-Remand Project' is the provision of basic legal services to remand prisoners both within the framework of the CRP and CMP plans.

For this reason, he has proposed the designation of a 'special' court to expeditiously deal with the backlog of remand cases.

The organisation has, therefore, drawn a comprehensive plan to help in administering justice through its 'Access 2 Justice' project. This involves the sequential development and implementation of a variety of programmes geared towards addressing human rights issues and problems in the areas of criminal justice and penal reform, consumer rights, environmental protection, rule of law, good governance and campaign finance.

The 'Access 2 Justice' project which has been ongoing for almost three years now, led to the release of over 50 of such prisoners under the 'Justice for All' Project which was initiated by the former Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Hon. Joe Ghartey.

The 'Justice for All' Project was aimed at bringing justice to the doorsteps of all Ghanaians, especially the vulnerable in society CHURCIL intends to achieve its goals and objectives through the design and implementation of projects and programmes that will facilitate access to justice for the poor and under-privileged in society, with approaches in research and surveys on access to justice issues, legal aid and support services, training and capacity building, stakeholders consultative meetings as well as seminars.

The issue of access to justice for those deprived of their personal and individual liberties is stated in a wide range of international treaties and standards as well as a number of regional declarations by African countries.

In his preface in Professor Andrew Coyle's seminal book titled 'A Human Rights Approach to Prison Management' (2002), the then British Minister of Interior, Jack Straw wrote, “I strongly believe that the way societies treat those who have been deprived of their liberty is a litmus test of commitment to human rights.”

As an organisation committed to the resourceful use of the law as a positive force for the promotion of rule of law, respect for human rights and the protection of fundamental human rights as guaranteed by the 1992 Constitution of the Republic of Ghana, Kojo Graham said CHURCIL subscribes to this assertion.

“We believe the success of the ARP will be dependent on the effective coordination of the roles and support of all key stakeholders and participants in the administration of justice in Ghana, namely, the Ghana Prisons Service, the Ghana Bar Association and all legal education institutions”, he emphasised.