Access to Justice
A major component of the CHRI mandate is access to justice, and the Africa office has been working towards achieving a higher level of access to justice for all Ghanaians and West Africans. This includes monitoring the accessibility of justice to Ghanaians and other Africans nationals in terms of accessibility to the judicial system, especially the right to fair trials. CHRI has also endeavored to ensure the availability of courts and their even distribution and the provision of legal aid to guarantee the right to fair trial, especially in the rural areas and to the less privileged.
Ghana celebrated 50 years of independence in 2007 and with it CHRI marked a new chapter in its success with its ongoing work on police reforms and accountability. Though Ghana may now be a stable democracy, it has not always been this way. There have been periods of military rule and illegitimate political interference into the security and justice centre. Years of colonial style policing prior to independence left a legacy of regime policing in Ghana; violent, heavy handed and politicized policing that was in place to protect the ruling regime's interests, rather than to serve the Ghanaian community.
Today's police service is a direct descendant of the colonial police service, and continues to show signs of many of those same traits. Despite a series of government sponsored commissions and committees - that began in 1951 and have continued to sit since - the police have not been pulled into line with the modern democracy that Ghana is today; at different times reform has been undermined by political turmoil or dismissed because of a lack of political will for change.
Corruption, illegal arrest and detention, excessive use of force and failures to act on complaints are all common characteristics if the Ghanaian police force. These are all features of a regime-style police force that is not held accountable for its actions. However, CHRI is making sure that the current police regime will be held responsible for such human rights violations and is working towards effecting police reform in Ghana and other parts of Africa.
In January 2009, the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative received a grant from the Australian Government’s Human Rights Small Grants Scheme to conduct awareness and advocacy campaigns across five regions in Ghana on the Rights of Arrested Persons in Ghana. CHRI set to work on this project by reprinting 2,000 copies each of the “Ghana Know Your Rights” booklets, “Police and the Public” as well as “Commercial Drivers: Know your Rights brochures published by CHRI in 2007 and using the publications to create awareness. In eleven months of implementation, CHRI has successfully organized a public forum in Accra; visited one university and 4 senior high Schools in Accra; one senior high school each in Krobo Odumasi, Kumasi and Sunyani. CHRI has also organized 2 workshops for Community based organizations, one in Kumasi and one in Sunyani.
CHRI has also dealt with issues relating to police brutality in the past and is continually working towards creating a better relationship between Ghana’s police force and it’s citizens. Specific incidents of police brutality that CHRI was involved in include the Takoradi Polytechnic incident in 2007, when police shot upon students with tear gas during a peaceful demonstration. The Adadao Riots, in which various traditional groups as well as police were involved in armed conflict; as well as the Jaycee Incident, in which police stopped a bus of university students and unlawfully detained the driver and abused the students are further examples of CHRI’s involvement in ending police brutality in Ghana. CHRI has worked on educating both civilians and police officers about police brutality and believes that the culpable officers should be prosecuted for their illegal conduct.
CHRI Africa has also worked on issues related to justice centers in Ghana. Access to Justice, and specifically the right to counsel, is a substantive right within the criminal law context. In and of itself, the right to counsel is a fundamental human right as well. Additionally, it underscores the right to a fair hearing. Embedded within the right to access justice is recognition of the equality of all persons, the right to be represented by an attorney before a competent and impartial court, and the right to be brought to trial in a timely manner. In light of the serious challenges faced in the access to justice delivery in Ghana, the CHRI Africa Office has undertaken a 2-year project to establish Justice Centers in Ghana.
Chapter 5 of the 1992 Constitution of Ghana guarantees fundamental human rights and access to justice to all Ghanaians. Article 14 (2) of the Ghanaian constitution protects every individual from arbitrary arrest and provides that, a person who is arrested, restricted and detained shall be informed immediately; in a language that he understands, of the reasons for his arrest, of his right to a lawyer of his choice and an interpreter at state expense. Additionally, such a person is entitled to be taken to court within 48 hours after his/her arrest.
The mission of these Centers is to improve the accessibility of judicial redress for impoverished persons who have been arrested. CHRI intends to achieve this goal by enhancing the availability of legal personnel to such people upon arrest. Specifically, CHRI intends to train both lawyers and law students (Pre-trial advocates) so that they are able to provide pro bono legal services to people immediately upon their arrest and educate them about their rights. Pre-trial advocates visit Police stations according to a rotation approved by the Program Officer to provide legal advice to suspects and arrested persons. They assist in obtaining bail for suspects, assist with the writing of statements, conduct relevant follow-ups and provide general legal advice. In addition, the advocates monitor violations of rights of detainees and prepare reports on any findings.
This two-year project to promote access to justice for the poor commenced in Ghana, in Accra and Kumasi. The Justice Centers Project draws inspiration from similar projects in Nigeria and South Africa.
The main objectives of the Justice Centers project are as follows:
The Justice centers seek to increase the awareness of the rights established in Chapter 5 of the 1992 Constitution of Ghana.
The Justice centers seek to increase availability and accessibility of legal representation to impoverished persons accused of crime.
The Justice centers seek to build sub-regional networks to promote access to justice.
Furthermore, the Justice centers seek to influence legislative and policy reform on access to justice through advocacy.
Justice Centers are currently operating in Ghana in Accra and Kumasi. The Accra centre began operations in June 2010 and is located at the CHRI Africa Office at Asylum Down. Pre-trial advocates have visited the Dansoman, Nima, Ashaiman, Madina and Odorkor police stations in Accra. The Kumasi centre opened in May 2010 and is located at the Office of the Centre for Human Rights and Advanced Legal Research at Adum. In Kumasi, the pre-trial advocates have visited Asokwa, Suame, Zongo and Asuase police stations.
It should also be noted that the presence of the advocates at the Police stations influences the police to be more professional in their duties with regard to the rights of suspects. A Police investigator at one of the police stations once confessed to an advocate that, the duties they are performing at the police station are putting the police in check in the performance of their duties. The police are attesting to the good work the advocates have been doing and this certainly serves as a motivation for the advocates.
Some challenges facing the justice centers department include:
Cells conditions at some stations are not the best. Pre-trial advocates enter the police cells to interview suspects and take their statements. The cells are congested and smell very bad most of the time. Working in such conditions is not conducive to attaining positive results.
Pre-trial Advocates as part of their duties are expected to assist suspects in writing their statements, but the police have prevented them from doing so. The Police claim that, not even a lawyer can assist a suspect to write his or her statement. Advocates are also not allowed to serve as Independent witnesses when suspects are writing their statements. According to a senior Police officer at one of the police stations in Accra, it was the duty of the police to determine who should be an independent witness and not the suspect or any individual.
There is also the challenge of obtaining information from investigators at the Criminal Investigations Department at the Police Stations. The investigators of the cases the advocates receive are generally not accessible. This makes it difficult for the advocates to verify the statements they receive from the suspects and also follow up on them.
Furthermore, some police officers have not been giving the necessary support to the pre-trial advocates, especially the junior officers. Some officers are critical of the duties of the advocates. They have the notion that the pre-trial advocates are at the police stations to investigate and report them to their superiors. They are defensive and protective of what they do and are more or less hostile when pre-trial advocates make enquiries. The advocates in such situations try to assure the officers that, they are not there to investigate them but are there to work with them to help the detainees.
If you have questions relating to the justice centres please contact:
Accra Office: 233 0302 971170
Kumasi Office: 289 953 2132