Rejoinder: Fair trial on altar of speedy trial

As indicated in last week’s article, the ‘business’ of this week’s write-up was to continue with the exposition of some of the intractable problems of the criminal justice system.  

Some of these problems have been recurring to the extent of attaining systemic dimensions and their critical exposition will be painstakingly dissected, and possible solutions offered, in due course.

However, I was ‘ambushed’ upon settling down to write this week’s column.

I was struck by the above title which appeared in the Daily Graphic on Monday.

The article was well written and pregnant with very interesting points, some of which should be taken on board by the stakeholders of the criminal justice system.

It is beyond argument that the right to be heard, as stated in the said article, must always be balanced with the newly emerging practice of speedy trials.

However, I cannot fathom how speeding up trials will jeopardise the often sought-after ideals of a fair trial.

As has been constantly canvassed on these pages, delays in completing trials, especially in the criminal context, is a canker that clashes, sometimes disastrously, with the hallowed ideals of a fair trial – see past articles on the debilitating effects of delays on both accused persons, the government and the general public.

It is my urgent wish, that the conclusion of trials within a reasonable time becomes the norm.

It is not for nothing that the Constitution expressly provides that trials must be concluded within a reasonable time [see chapter 5 of the Constitution, particularly Articles 14(4) and 19(1)].

I contend that some judges are imposing short time limits for trials under the guise of case management.

Most practitioners I have engaged with do not have experience of this and it would be helpful if further light is shed on this.

Surely, having clear timelines for the speedy resolution of trials is a good thing?

Lawyers should always have a theory of their case at the outset.

It is difficult to accept that the imposition of strict timelines could upset a lawyer’s strategy.


Being charged with a criminal offence can be very unpleasant, stressful and sometimes extremely confusing, given the complexities of the legal system.

Therefore, it is always in the interest of all accused persons and society at large that trials are completed swiftly.

The result would be that innocent persons wrongfully accused wouldn’t carry the stress of being charged for longer than necessary; victims and their families would get ‘justice’ in time; witnesses would be able to give credible and reliable evidence as opposed to grappling with recalling events, largely because they occurred years previously and details have been forgotten.

The attempt by Ghanaian courts to introduce daily trials, especially in the criminal division, is a laudable innovation and should be supported for reasons already alluded to.

The practice where trials drag on, some for more than five years, is a serious indictment on the system and the Constitution rightly frowns on it.


As pertains in many jurisdictions, trials are held daily once they commence.

It is, therefore, very interesting for the contention that daily hearings of cases are inconsistent with fair trial principles —the contrary is the case,I will argue.

I would urge that the learned writer should, in true lawyer’s parlance, provide our readers with ‘further and better particulars’ of what he means by ‘rushed trials’ and show how this negatively affects the conduct of cases by counsel.

If it is a case that basic procedural and legal safeguards are jettisoned in the name of speeding up the trial, then he has a point.


Further, it cannot be right to seek to take away the discretion of judges in applications to stay proceedings on an interlocutory appeal point. Judicial discretion is an important tool in the armoury of the judge in the administration of justice.

It always has to be exercised judiciously.

So, if that does not happen, then aggrieved lawyers can always go on appeal.

However, to suggest that the mere filing and service of a stay of proceedings application should automatically curtail hearings is a recipe for chaos and disaster – it will be ‘carte blanche’ for the proliferation of ‘sharp practices’ – those negative tactics deployed by some lawyers to frustrate justice.

The writer is a lawyer.

E-mail: georgebshaw1@gmail.com

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