On the occasion of the handing over of office supplies to the Ghana Legal Aid SchemeJan 8, 2014
Kumasi: The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) on the 8th of January 2014, is officially handing equipment, furniture and various items to the Ghana Legal Aid Scheme. The handing over ceremony is taking place at the Kumasi Court of Appeal Premises and presided over by the Deputy Minister of Justice and Attorney General and the UNDP Country Director, Mr. Dominic Sam. These items are intended to support the efforts of the Government of Ghana in the opening of sixteen (16) district offices across the country.
The rule of law builds peace, economic and social transformation through justice and security. It’s the glue that binds communication, districts, regions and countries together. It’s the foundation for building resilience and transforms nations. The simple fact is: where the rule of law breaks down, tyranny, poverty and instability prevails, violence begets violence, and abusers commit especially blue colored crimes with impunity. Fair enforcement of laws is a prerequisite for a society that is equitable and by implication restores dignity to all. For these reasons, strengthening the rule of law is a key component in the UN’s mission to enhance security, foster development and protect human rights. The rule of law, that is justice, cannot be a commodity that is available to only those who can afford to pay for it. We should strive to ensure that it is available and is a source of comfort to every person. Without access to an equitable and enforceable system of laws, Ghana cannot reach it targeted potential at the next level.
Although, access to justice is an essential element in the democratic process, in Africa and in Ghana many people are unable to afford basic legal services. Despite the importance of legal aid, financial crisis, rates of globalization and modernization have provided a range of pressures on public spending including the provision of legal aid; there is therefore the need for non-state actors to support legal aid delivery if the poor and vulnerable are to have access to justice.
According to a baseline survey of the justice sector commissioned by the Ministry of Justice in 2012, 79% of Ghanaians sampled did not even know of the existence of the Ghana Legal Aid Scheme or the services it provides; 79% of Ghanaians are thus not aware that if they are unable to afford legal services, the state will not only provide the service but has a mandated institution with professional staff that provides free legal services to the poor and vulnerable. Since access to justice and legal aid is critical for all persons and vital for the poor, UNDP was pleased to support the expansion of legal aid services to the districts when approached by the scheme. With this support, Legal Aid has expanded coverage and access of services across the country from 10 regional offices to 26 regional and district offices.
As part of the support UNDP is providing, sixteen (16) district offices and seven regional offices have benefitted from some refurbishments to the office structures to make the offices more functional. The furniture and equipment costing about $300,000 are to support national efforts to expand legal services across the country to the benefit of those who cannot afford to pay for these services.
The items comprise of
1. 80 Office Computers, Laptop with their accessories
2. 28 Photocopiers
4. 20 Scanners
5. 51 Hard drives
6. 72 UPS
7. 20Motor Cycles
8. 90 Office Desk and Tables
9. 200 Office Chairs
10. 25 Mediation Tables 160 Chairs
11. 69Benches with back rest for clients
The newly created district offices are, for the Volta Region (1) – Denu, Eastern Region (5) - Abetifi, Begoro, New Abirem, Kibi, Asesewa; Brong Ahafo (4) - Dua yaw Nkanta, Goaso, Techiman, Atebubu; Northern Region (1) – Bimbilla; Upper East Region (2) – Bawku, Zebilla; Upper West Region (3)– Nadowli, Tumu and Lawra.
This particular support is in line with UNDP’s current strategic direction which emphasises assistance that impacts directly on the poor and disadvantaged in society. It is therefore expected that the items will be put to good use to achieve the objectives for which they have been provided. UNDP’s continued support to the Legal Aid Scheme in particular is varied, and includes the development of a five year strategic plan, operational and training manuals for the personnel, communication strategy to help reach out to those who really need the services, and training of staff to improve the efficiency and quality of services provided to the clients.
It is imperative for more institutions, including the private sector to support the Legal Aid Scheme which with its limited resources last year reached out and resolved over 8000 cases.
Finally, the biggest impediment to justice delivery according to the Ministry of Justice Baseline Survey is actually not the cost of the services, but the time it takes for justice to be delivered. Justice delayed is indeed justice denied. Ultimately, justice needs to be timely and accessible by all citizens of Ghana irrespective of their financial status. It is hoped that this expansion to 16 districts with the support of many, can be increased to all districts in Ghana. As the reforms in the legal services enfold, it is hoped that these critical thorny issues will be unravelled for a more effective justice delivery system.
Jane Owiredu Yeboah
Governance Specialist, UNDP