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Lack of legal aid violates constitution
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General News of Friday, 14 August 2009

Source: GNA

Lack of legal aid violates constitution

Accra, Aug. 14, GNA - Non-provision of legal aid to those who need it is a violation of their constitutional right, Mr Alhassan Yahaya Seini, Director of Legal Aid Board (LAB), said on Thursday. He said it was the duty of the state to afford the citizenry the opportunity to realise this constitutional right whether poor or rich. In an interview with the Ghana News Agency in Accra he referred to Article 294 of the 1992 Constitution and said "a person is entitled to legal aid in connection with any proceedings relating to the constitution if he has reasonable grounds for taking, defending, prosecuting or being a party to proceedings."

"Since it is a right under the constitution there must be a duty to make it work," Mr Seini said.

He said the technicalities involved in handling legal maters made it necessary for anyone to have access to a lawyer. "Anyone in a legal brawl is better off with a lawyer than without a lawyer, even those who are legal practitioners," he said. Mr Seini said the Ghana Bar Association and the National Service Scheme were the constitutionally mandated bodies to provide Legal Aid Board with lawyers.

He said the National Service Secretariat could not give a single lawyer because people who completed law courses normally did their National Service before completing School of Law. Mr Seini said he could not tell why the GBA could not provide Legal Aid Board with a lawyer to assist the body.

"I wrote to them on several occasions reminding them of their constitutional mandate of providing LAB with personnel without any reply from them," he said.

Mr Seini said LAB lacked personnel and logistics for its efficient functioning adding that it had only 11 lawyers, one for each region, a few volunteers and a national director. The volunteer lawyers are paid only 20 per cent of what should be charged upon completing a case. He said these lawyers were hired by the government to direct the affairs of the LAB but because of lack of lawyers they rather defended clients in court.

These few legal practitioners, he said, had no career progression unlike their counterparts in the government sector. "Those employed as assistant directors for so many years now are still holding that position."

He said, however, that LAB, in spite its constraints, handled over 6,000 cases in 2008, 60 per cent of which were mediations. Mr Seini said the expensive nature of hiring lawyers put justice far above the reach of many individuals.

He said if the ordinary people who deserved justice could not get it, they might lose trust in the justice system and this could create problems for the country.

Mr Seini called on the government to do all in its power to provide the necessary logistics and qualified lawyers to make LAB in Ghana efficient, adding that though justice could be very expensive "we must not by our actions or inactions try injustice". 14 Aug. 09

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