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Opinions of Monday, 19 May 2008

Columnist: Awuah, Nana Akwasi

Legal Sensitisation: Whose Duty is it?

The word legal has been defined by the Oxford Advanced Learner?s Dictionary (Special Price Edition) as ?of based on or concerned with the law?. Legal sensitisation therefore in the context of this article can be referred to as the act of creating awareness among the public based on or concerned with the prevailing law. The question ?What is law?? may never be sufficiently answered. There is an unending battle still being fought as jurists and legal experts attempt to answer this question.

WHAT IS LAW?

In spite of this ?law battle?, one can undeniably notice certain cross-cutting features in all definitions of law. One can say that at least in a set of laws governing a particular place, there is an iota of morality. This may however differ from place to place based on beliefs [for instance prostitution has been legalised in The Netherlands in contrast with Ghana]. Jurists sometimes refer to this as the overlap thesis, that is, the situation where law meets morality. In essence, law is that which regulates how humans co-exist. It embodies the norms and values of a society and outlines what members of a society are required to do for the common good of the people. Thus, wherever two or more people exist, law is inevitable.

KNOWING OUR LAWS

As earlier stated, the law in any particular jurisdiction may indubitably contain certain moral values: laws against stealing, laws against killing et cetera. We are yet to hear of a law which legalises theft. For these and many more, one gets to know that it is morally unaccepted to commit these acts. The reasonable man in society therefore obeys these laws knowingly or unknowingly of its sanctions or punishments. I dare to ask; ?What of the laws concerning wills, the registration of marriages, and endorsement of contracts involving real property??How many Ghanaians know that it is an offence to eject a spouse and/or children from their matrimonial home immediately after the death of the other spouse? [See Section 17 of PNDC Law 111]. It is trite law that, ignorance of the law is no excuse ? ignorantia iuris neminem excusat [See the famous case of Nyameneba and Others v The State (1965) GLR 723]. Obviously, people have to get to know of these laws. Whose duty is it therefore to ensure that people are made aware of these laws? Is it the government? Is it the judges and lawyers? No friends, it is a common duty for us all.

PRINCIPLES AND VALUES OF LAW

Here with us, one of the pillars on which our constitution is built is the Rule of Law. The Rule of Law contains certain universally accepted principles and values. One of these is that laws should be prospective, open, clear and accessible to all. Raz(a renowned jurist) has been recalled saying that it may be impossible to enumerate them all as it will vary in content and importance from one society to the next [ Neil Parpworth: Constitutional and Administrative Law,2nd edition, Butterworths 2002]. The Rule of Law requires for the certainty of the law. All Ghanaians, as part of their civil responsibilities, are obliged to defend the Constitution and the law; as Obeng rightly acknowledges the difficulty for the citizenry to ?execute this nationalistic obligation when the accessibility of most of our laws seems to be impossible. It is not enough for us to be always professing our belief in rule of law but to practically translate its principles into reality? [Obeng M.R, Certainty of Laws is a Prerequisite of Rule of Law; Feature article www.ghanaweb.com]. It is in this light that the Constitution, 1992, provides for the establishment of a National Commission for Civic Education (NCCE) under article 231. Among its many functions, it has a constitutional mandate to ?create and sustain within the society the awareness of the principles and objectives? of the Constitution. Pursuant to article 231, Parliament has enacted a law, National Commission for Civic Education Act, 1993, Act 452. The activities of the Commission can most be realised at the High School Levels through the formation of Civic Clubs. Likewise, the Commission for Human Rights and Administrative Justice has as a function, ?to educate the public as to human rights and freedoms by such means as the Commissioner may decide including publications, lectures and symposia?.[ See article 233(d) of 1992 Constitution]

ACCESSIBILITY OF OUR LAWS

The difficulty is how do we make the law accessible to that old lady living in that very remote part of the country? This is where we are called upon as stakeholders of this country to create awareness of what the law is and what it says. The NCCE and CHRAJ can not do it alone. There are so many means through which this arduous task can be done. The media is prime, both print and electronic. These days, in our local movies, all we see is comedy, romance and what have you. Every Ghanaian must have heard of Agya Koo by now. In contrast the average Ghanaian is ignorant of the essence and requirements of making a valid will which if known would have gone a long way to nip in the bud the emergence of family disputes. Is it not possible to include elements of law in our movies so as to make it both entertaining and educative? The radio could equally be used to air educative legal programmes in the form of drama. Musicians, religious leaders, those in the showbiz, students, lawyers and everyone have a role to play in carrying out legal outreach. The task is quite a Herculean one and thus the need for all to participate.

Nana Akwasi Awuah Faculty of Law, KNUST. gunshotv3@yahoo.com



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