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Formal in-prison paralegal programme needed – Chief Justice

Chief Justice Kwasi Anin-Yeboah has called for support to implement the In-prison Paralegal Programme (IPP) to ensure justice for innocent people.

IPP complements the justice for all programme (JFAP) and enables trained persons to fight for justice for those who are wrongfully arrested, detained, or incarcerated.

The Perfector of Sentiments (POS) Foundation provides inmates and prison officers training as paralegals to help write and file appeals for inmates who would like self-representation in court.

In a speech read on his behalf by a Justice of the Supreme Court, Gabriel Scott Pwamang, the Chief Justice, explained that the processes to achieve a safe society is complex, just as the nature of fighting crime is also complicated.

As a result, the law has elaborate provisions aimed at ensuring that while criminals are effectively dealt with, innocent persons are not mistakenly punished in the process of fighting crime.

Nonetheless, he stated that being a human institution, trial courts at times make mistakes, resulting in innocent persons ending up in prison when they ought not to have.

Several factors account for this, including instances where the police and prosecutors, sometimes out of zeal or human error, present evidence against an accused person that is not wholly true.

Such evidence may enter the court’s record because a lawyer does not represent the accused person or the defence lawyer is inexperienced or simply inefficient in cross-examining on the wrongful evidence.

To resolve this challenge that makes innocent persons suffer the penalty that ought not to have been served to them, the Chief Justice said the country must commit to a well-funded national legal aid scheme.

Ama Forson and his son (middle), Justice Gabriel Scott Pwamang (third from right), and other officials at the launch of the video

 

“My wish is that as a nation, we should consider institutionalising this effort of the POS Foundation by continuously perusing the record of proceedings of convicted persons who have a reasonable belief that they were innocent but could not prove it when the case was heard in the court,” he said.

The IPP, which is comparable to the innocent protection Act, 2004 passed by the US Congress, would ensure that needed compensation to wrongfully incarcerated persons is granted.

He said this at the public viewing of the story of one Ama Forson, who was unlawfully convicted and imprisoned for 11 years for possession of narcotics.

Now 69 years old, Ama Forson appealed her case under the programme and was consequently acquitted and discharged.

Dealing with crime

Turning his attention to recent criminal activities in the country, he pledged the judiciary’s resolve to enforce the law against such miscreants rigidly.

However, he said the judiciary could only do its work if other institutions, especially the police and Attorney General’s Department, are able to gather sufficient evidence to sustain the charges against those that they decide to prosecute in court.

Justice Anin-Yeboah said, “The Judiciary under my watch is ever committed to play our role in the fight against crime by ensuring that those who make it their business to disturb the peace of the country are severely punished in accordance with the law.”

He lauded the POS Foundation for their fight in delivering justice to the marginalised in society.

“They are our principal partners in the internationally acclaimed Justice For All Programme through which prisoners on remand who do not deserve to be continuously detained but for reasons of lack of money to pay for the services of good lawyers get their cases promptly reviewed by senior judges who sit in the prisons where the detainees are.”

READ ALSO: Justice For All Programme Holds Historic Virtual Court Sitting

The In-prison Paralegal Programme

As part of efforts to ensure access to justice and reduce congestion in prisons in Ghana, a team, upon returning from a trip to Kenya, introduced the In-Prison Paralegal Programme.

The tea developed the IPP and targeted the marginalised in the society who suffer injustice.

The team includes the Ghana Prisons Service, the Judicial Service, public interest lawyers, and the Executive Director of POS Foundation, Mr Jonathan Osei Owusu.

The programme has started with a pilot, which has seen Ama Forson and two others released from prison, while the prison term for 15 others has been reduced.

So far, 25 inmates and prison officers from the Nsawam Medium-Security Prison have been trained, and 18 Appeal Schools created.

It is expected to be extended across the country.

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