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27.10.2005 General News

Magistrate courts are collapsing - CJ

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Accra, Oct. 27, GNA - The administration of District Magistrate's Courts is in crisis and their functioning was gradually coming to a halt, Mr Justice George Kingsley Acquah, Chief Justice, observed on Thursday.

Mr Justice Acqauh attributed this to the decline of lawyers to accept positions as District Magistrates and increasing volume of cases flooding the courts.

The Chief Justice, who was speaking at an induction ceremony for 18 career Magistrates at the Forecourt of the Commercial Court in Accra, noted that cases before the Magistrate's Courts now stood at 101,962 cases.

Quoting the 2003 and 2004 Annual Report of the Judicial Service, Mr Justice Acquah said as at October 2003, 16,902 civil and 19,407 criminal cases were filed at the courts.

"From that date to June 30, 2004; 42,129 civil and 40,129 criminal cases were filed and in June 2004 to June, this year, the total number of cases pending before our Magistrate's Courts stood at 101,962", he said.

The Chief Justice said to ensure that every district had a Magistrate's Court and dispensed justice at the grassroots; Ghana needed 800 Magistrate's Courts countrywide.

Mr Justice Acquah said currently the country had 131 Magistrate's Courts but had only 50 Magistrates occupying them, leaving 81 vacancies. "Out of this 50, one has retired, another passed away and another is in my office as personal assistant, thus leaving 47 Magistrates assisted by a number of Circuit Court Judges to run the Magistrate's Courts," he said.

He observed that some of the Magistrate's Courts operated once a week, while others did business two or three times in a week. "It is quite clear, therefore, that the manpower situation at our Magistrate's Courts is getting worse and indeed critical", he said. Comparing Ghana's situation to Nigeria, South Africa, Uganda and Tanzania the Chief Justice noted that there were numerous Magistrate's Courts scattered all over those countries, adding, "it is making it possible for the people to have a ready and easy access to courts for the resolution of their disputes."

Mr Justice Acquah said "going by this figure, Ghana ought to have 800 Magistrates, "if we are to bring justice to the doorsteps of the people".

"It is not surprising that our Magistrate's Courts are heavily saddled with a huge backlog of cases," he said.

He said all over the world countries were now recruiting well-educated laypersons and training them to man the lower courts.

Citing the United Kingdom as example, Mr Justice Acquah indicated that it was relying on a large number of laypersons as justice of peace for the administration of justice in their lower courts.

He said the Judicial Service was poised to revive all defunct district courts and establish new ones provided district assemblies provided courthouses and accommodation for the Magistrates.

He was grateful to Circuit Court Judges, who were sitting as additional magistrates, and that the birth of the District Magistrates would not mean the neglect of their welfare.