A GNA Feature by Mrs Justina Paaga
Cape Coast, April 6, GNA - If it held that 'justices delayed is justice denied' then one can say with any fear of contradiction that many Ghanaians are being denied justice. In many Ghanaian courts today suspects are placed in either Police or Prison custody for months or even years without their cases being tried.
In some cases, such people make one appearance in court only to have them remanded, since it is illegal to place a suspect in police custody for more than 48 hours.
Due to this constitutional obligation, Police Prosecutors rush such suspects to the court room for them to be remanded in prison custody with the explanation that, they have not finished with their investigations and, therefore, want such suspects remanded. Once the Prosecutors satisfy that condition some of them virtually abandon the case. Sometimes it takes more than three months or one year before such suspects are brought back to court only for "mention". The Prosecutors would just inform the court that they were still contacting the Prosecution Witnesses or were conducting further investigations in to the case.
Court Room Theatrics
It was during one such courtroom theatrics that a Circuit Court Judge at Cape Coast, Mr Mustapha Logoh expressed concern about the way Prosecutors were not helping the judiciary to speed up with court proceeding and suggested that courses should be held for all investigators in the country, particularly the Central Region, to educate them on their duties.
It is so frustrating that when cases are called in court the Prosecutor would say: "Mr Lord my witnesses are not in court; but I duly informed the investigator to warn the witness to come to court, but they are not in court."
Then he shouts in the courtroom; "Yaw, Ansah, Kojo, Ama; no response. They have failed to come to court, my Lord then take a date I will endeavour to bring them to court the next adjourned date".
The Judge then remarks; "this is your last chance, after many adjournments, at the next adjourned date if your witnesses fail to come, I will strike out the case for want of prosecution".
Once this Warning is issued by the Judges the Prosecutors on the next adjourned date, rush unprepared witnesses to the courtroom. Because they come unprepared the answers they give to questions do not tally with what they wrote in their original statements.
One other issue that delays court proceeding is the lack of transportation to convey suspects on remand in Police custody or Prisons to the court. In many cases the Prosecutors would throw their hands into the air, after mentioning the names of remand prisoners without response. They will again say: "My Lord no vehicle to bring them to court" and ask for another adjournment. This can happen for weeks, months and even years. In some cases the maximum sentence if found guilty might be a year but the suspect ends up staying for three years in custody.
Who says Lawyers do not have a hand in the delay of cases in court? As much as their livelihood depended on the cases they defend some end up denying their client early justices, some of them shuttle from lower courts to the higher courts, from districts to regions, defending clients and as a result, they take on too many cases and this makes it very difficult for them to handle such cases effectively.
In most cases, they send letters to the court, asking for long adjournment date, for either being indisposed, have to appear before another court outside their Region of operation or have just been consulted on a case. Others also ask that their colleagues hold brief for them. Some would plead with the court to adjourn their cases, since the cases have just been transferred to them and they needed time to study the case or if it is a part heard case they would ask that the past court proceedings be typed out for them to study.
"My Lord let us take a longer date to enable me to study the proceeding", they would say. In some cases one month adjournment is given and all this while the suspects are in custody.
The inadequate number of judges to man the courts particularly the District Courts is also a major contributory factor to the delay of court proceedings. The Abura-Dunkwa, Assin-Fosu, Komenda- Edina-Eguafo-Abrem, Twifo-Praso, Mfantsiman Districts, all in the Central Region do not have permanent judges and the few that are at the regional level normally move to such places once a week. Another 'killing' issue is the bail for accused persons. Some court clerks make it a harvest day when there are plenty fresh cases in court. They intentionally make the suspects to wait unnecessarily, and those who are in a hurry would have to part with some few cedis before their bail papers are finally prepared from them.
In some cases the suspect are not able to meet the bail conditions and find their way to remand prison and their case becomes history, if one is not able to seek the services of a Lawyer.
In order not to deny the public particularly remand prisoners early and fair justice, Prosecutors, Investigators and Lawyers would have to change their ways of doing things.
Investigators should endeavour to conduct their investigations on time send the needed prosecution witnesses to court, while Lawyers also accepted the number of cases they could handle so as not to delay proceedings at the courts by asking for proceedings on a case which is more than five years old to be typed for them.
The Government and Judiciary should also send enough judges to both the lower and higher courts to reduce the work load on the few judges, who work deep into the night and are supposed to be in court early for court proceeding to go on.
The Ghana Police Service and the Prisons Service should also be provided with vehicles that would be solely used to convey remand prisoners to and from courts and as a matter of urgency, the Department of Social Welfare should revamp it activities at the various prisons, arrange for counsels for remand prisoners and also encourage their relatives to visit them and give them the needed support.
Until this is done many innocent people would continue to languish in the nation's prisons for years. Let as all show interest and give the needed support to help to reduce the plight of remand prisoners and speed up court proceedings.