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General News of Friday, 3 November 2017

Source: Graphic.com.gh

Legal Aid Bill before Cabinet — Attorney General

A Legal Aid Bill that will ensure that legal services are available throughout the country for people who cannot afford legal fees in full is before the Cabinet for approval.

The bill will address the challenges in accessing justice by providing for the participation of paralegals or legal assistants in legal aid delivery.

The Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Ms Gloria Akuffo, announced this in Accra last Tuesday when she opened a high-level dialogue on Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 16 in Accra. She said the bill would ensure that legal aid was available to all.

The dialogue was on the theme, Delivering SDG Goal 16 in Ghana: Paralegals for increased Access to Legal Aid Services in Ghana”.

Justice delivery

Ms Akuffo indicated that the use of paralegals and legal assistants had been identified as one of the means by which justice delivery could be brought to the doorstep of a large number of people who had little or no access to the justice delivery system.

“The role of paralegals and legal assistants in legal aid delivery is new to the country’s justice delivery system and its implementation will, therefore, raise a number of issues such as who is qualified and the remits of paralegals,” she said.

The Attorney General added that the cardinal pillar of the country’s democracy was that the Constitution guaranteed rule of law which was the accepted mode of ensuring access to justice.

Limited access

She said in view of the high cost of limited access to justice delivery, the Constitution provided legal aid for deserving persons throughout the country but unfortunately, legal assistance was not available in most parts of the country.

“The Legal Aid Board was charged among others with developing a comprehensive legal aid policy and programmes for countrywide implementation. This has been fraught with many challenges including lack of patronage by lawyers, funding and infrastructure among others,” she said.

Ms Akuffo said it was, therefore, not accidental when Ghana signed on to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and took on the mantle of co-chair to ensure attainment of those goals.

Access to justice

For his part, the Country Director of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Mr Dominic Sam, said in the absence of access to justice, people were unable to have their voices heard, exercise their rights or hold decision-makers accountable.

He said to the UNDP, every person, irrespective of their social status, should have access to justice to ensure that their rights were protected and that was also a recipe for peace to the extent that injustice was redressed.

Effective strategies

Mr Sam indicated that the use of paralegals had proven in many countries to be one of the effective strategies that ensured access to justice for the poor and vulnerable and it was, therefore, welcoming that Ghana had decided to explore that possibility by learning from sister African countries.

Overview

Presenting an overview of SDG 16, specifically target 16.3 and its indicators, the Head of Governance, UNDP, Nana Teiba Chinbuah, said the SDGs could not be achieved without peace and building peaceful, just and inclusive societies.

According to her, corruption, bribery and tax evasion cost about $1.26 trillion for developing countries per year, an amount that could be used to lift those who are living on less than $1.25 a day in at least six years.

The Director of Legal Aid, Ghana, Mr Alhassan Yahaya Seini, said access to justice was a basic principle of the rule of law and also a fundamental human right guaranteed under the 1992 constitution of Ghana.

Legal records

He said according to the General Legal Council’s records, as of June 30, 2017 there were 2,599 licensed lawyers that practised in Ghana and many of them were not in advocacy, while others were still not engaged in practice in the criminal justice system.

According to him, an additional challenge to general availability was that the majority of the lawyers resided and worked in the national and regional capitals, adding that 2,112 of the number resided in Accra with 392 distributed in the regional capitals.

A high-level dialogue of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 16.3 opened in Accra which discussed how paralegals could be used for increased access to Legal Aid Services in the country.