General News of Monday, 7 October 2013
Source: Jeffrey De-Graft Johnson
Rt. Rev Dr. Daniel Sylvester Mensah Torto, the Anglican Bishop of Accra has called on the Judiciary to dispense justice to all manner of persons irrespective of their status in society.
Wondering how many poor people could file their cases in the Fast Track Court, he said it was becoming increasingly difficult for the poor and the vulnerable in society to access justice, calling into question the fairness of the justice system in the country.
Bishop Mensah Torto was emphatic that justice should not be made the privilege of the rich but as the fundamental human right enjoyed by all, adding that, “I believe you are familiar with the phrase ‘Justice is Not for Sale’.”
With emphasis on Amos 5: 24 in a sermon at the special church service for the opening of the 56 Legal Year in Accra, the Bishop of Accra reminded the Judiciary to be ‘just and righteous’ before their sacrifices will be acceptable to God.
“God requires from his people justice and righteousness before their sacrifices will be acceptable to him, let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream which implies that let righteousness have their due influence upon you, let your love be watered with it, let it burn down all vices and profane, let it run down as ever flowing waters,” Rev Mensah Torto stated.
“In particular,” he continued, “let justice be duly administered by judges, magistrates, priests, chiefs and all who are in authority to do so and let not the current of it be stopped by partiality and bribery but let it come freely as waters do the natural course. Let it be pure as running waters not muddled with corruption or whatever may pervert justice. Let it run like a magic stream and not offer itself to be obstructed or its course retarded by the fear of humankind.”
According to the man of God, all must have free access to justice as a common stream and have its benefits as trees planted by the rivers of waters.
Touching on the theme for the 2013-2014 Legal Year, ‘Access to Justice, A Tool for Peace and Stability’, the Accra Anglican Bishop averred that access to justice is seen in terms of mechanisms for ensuring the broad ideals of social justice, including the fair and proper administration of laws, conforming to the natural law that all persons irrespective of ethnic origin, gender, possession, race, religion are to be treated equally and without prejudice.
He said in Ghana and Africa things are kept upside down for the greatest good of the smallest minority instead of the majority, insisting “we need accountability, probity in the distribution, re-distribution and allocation of public resources. Until this is done, we cannot have peace and stability and the income gap between the rich and the poor will keep on widening”.
Rt. Rev Mensah Torto noted that in a society with immense socio-developmental issue such as Ghana, issues of access to justice is inextricably linked with special circumstances of vulnerable groups such as the poor, women, children, People living With Disabilities (PWD’s) and other socially disadvantaged persons.
He observed that for the population to access justice, they must understand their rights and the means of claiming them, contending that dispensing justice ought to be done with the welfare of the people in mind.
The Anglican Bishop of Accra, while indicating that access to justice involved normative legal protection, legal awareness, legal assistance, adjudication and enforcement, disclosed that where the citizenry did not have information or knowledge of their right or where there was a weak justice system, access to justice would be hampered.
“Access to justice is not just about more courtrooms, or more staff, it is about quality of justice. Justice Systems that are unaffordable, low or incomprehensible to the public respectively deny legal protection,” Dr. Torto stated, stressing that, “Court houses must exist not only in the urban populated areas but in remote and rural areas to enable proper access to the formal justice system.
He explained that if individuals did not feel that their grievances would be addressed in an efficient and timely manner, they may resort to violence as an alternative.
Bishop Torto hinted that poor legal representation was no better than lack of legal representation and that the majority of people should see the justice system as viable, responsive and fair.
For this reason, he urged the members of the Judiciary to apply the law equally regardless of identity, endeavour to treat all persons equally in the courtroom and have rulings that are seasoned and consistent with the law.
Beyond the call for making justice available to all manner of persons, the Anglican Bishop of Accra pushed for the promotion of restorative principles such as compensation and reconciliation as a measure towards enhancing the citizens’ confidence in the justice system and resort to same in times of dispute instead of self-help.