Accra, Oct. 28, GNA - Out of the 131 Magistrate's Courts established nationwide, 81 do not have Magistrates to man them. The worst affected regions are Volta, Brong Ahafo, Northern, Upper East, Upper West, Western and the Central, Mr Justice George Kingsley Acquah, Chief Justice said on Thursday.
"As a temporary way of filling some of the vacancies, 15 Circuit Court Judges are sitting as full time additional Magistrates," the Chief Justice said when he inducted the second batch of 50 trainee career Magistrates, including 11 women at a ceremony held at the Supreme Court in Accra.
The first batch of 34 trainees is expected to pass out in October 2005, and would be posted to the vacant districts and municipalities. Mr Justice Acquah noted that the situation of magistracy was getting worse attributing it to the unwillingness of Lawyers to accept appointment as Magistrates because of the unattractive conditions. He said even in developed countries such as United Kingdom where conditions of service for members of the bench were attractive, most Lawyers had not found magistracy to be a convenient place to begin their career.
"The UK relies on a large number of lay persons as justices of peace for the administration of justice in the lower court." The Chief Justice said the advantage of relying on well-educated laypersons with requisite judicial training far outweighed reliance on Lawyers for the local and community courts hence his preference for the Career Magistrate Programme.
The Chief Justice announced that Parliament had effected an amendment in the Courts Act 1993 and "this gives legal backing to the Career Magistrate Programme.
"It is also interesting to observe that the course is becoming popular. Last year we had 130 applicants but 34 were selected and this year we had over 500 applications."
He told the trainee Career Magistrates that the two-year course was a full time pensionable career and he would do every thing possible to make it as attractive as possible thereby becoming a highly competitive and honoured career.
"You are, therefore, not to shuttle between the course and any other job. Neither can you receive salary from the Judicial Service and at the same time take salary from your employers. If you do this you commit an offence and you will be prosecuted."
Mr Justice Acquah told the trainees that their character would be monitored during their training so that a crook Magistrate was not unleashed unto the community.
"As a Magistrate you are expected to possess and exhibit a high sense of honesty, integrity, efficiency and selflessness," he told them. The Chief Justice asked them to conduct their business in court "depending only on law and the facts of the case before you and not personalities".
He urged the trainees not to see the Judiciary as a gold mine saying "if, therefore, it is your intention to make money here at the expense of your work, then you have missed your way and this is not the place for you".
The Chief Justice mentioned the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) as being regular donor towards course in areas affecting children and thanked the Government for providing funds for the training of 50 Career Magistrates every year.
Papa Owusu Ankomah, Minister of Justice and Attorney General, said the Government attached great importance to the Career Magistrate Programme saying "you cannot have a meaningful democracy without people having access to justice".
He pledged the Government's commitment to provide the programme with the needed resource and asked the trainees to take their training very seriously.