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Opinions of Sunday, 27 July 2014

Columnist: Dzandu, Sammy

Record-keeping and justice delivery

………..Are we on the right track?

Asks Sammy Dzandu

I told myself I needed to take some rest as far as writing articles on records management is concerned. This was after I believed I have written enough articles on the need to keep proper records in the country.

However, after reading a news report in the Tuesday, 8th July 2014 edition of the Daily Graphic by Seth J. Bokpe, titled “Judgment postponed due to missing docket” I could not resist the temptation but to resume my “campaign”.

According to the report, two litigants who turned up at the James Town Magistrate Court in Accra on the previous day of the report for judgment in their case had to leave in anger and frustration after they were told that the docket on the case was missing. The case, we were told had been in the court since 2012. According to the report, the parties in the case were given three options: One, the case starts afresh. Two, the two parties supply their copies of the proceedings for the case to continue or Three, the parties petition the Chief Justice.

Of course, the facts of the case were given but since I am not a lawyer I would not dare go into the merits or demerits of the case. As an archivist, what intrigues me is that a docket was missing. Period! And it is indeed a serious issue. Interestingly, the story did not end there. Similar cases of reported missing dockets on cases were cited. For instance, in September 5, 2007, the docket on a case in which a Kumasi Magistrate Court ordered that the employers of a journalist pay his severance package was reported missing when he applied for a writ to attach his employers properties. In October 22, 2007 the dockets of the case in which somebody was convicted for killing 34 women went missing from the registries of the High Court and the Court of Appeal . His appeal stalled because the docket could not be found. The docket later resurfaced. In August 16, 2011, the docket on a popular hiplife musician, who was charged with offences including unauthorized parking, resisting arrest, etc went missing. In December 20, 2011, the docket on the controversial cocaine-turned –soda case involving a police officer was reported missing.

If indeed these cases on missing dockets as reported in the Daily Graphic are true then we have a long way to go as far as proper record-keeping is concerned. Is it not sad that some suspects are on remand for several years now without trial just because the dockets on their cases could not be found?.

It could, indeed, be very frustrating and painful after paying legal/filing fees, paying for transport, etc amidst adjournments with its associated inconveniences, only to be told that judgment could not be given in one’s case because the docket on the case was missing.

In finding solutions to this unfortunate issue of missing dockets, quite a number of questions need to be asked and for that matter answered. First of all, is anyone specifically assigned the responsibility of being in charge of dockets? If yes, was the person given the necessary training in records management to be able to manage the records/ dockets professionally? How effective and efficient is supervision of whoever is in charge of dockets? Are there specific policies/ regulations regarding access, retrieval and filling back of dockets? What kinds of systems exist in the law courts as far as auditing of files is concerned? Do the courts have suitable and adequate storage facilities to store dockets/files? In this era of Information and Communication Technology (ICT), are there any back ups of the dockets both in hard and soft copies? What about disaster management plans? Are there any, against flood, fire, theft, vandalism, etc? In answering the above questions, we would be working towards ensuring that dockets are safe thereby enhancing quick and quality justice delivery.

I wish to reiterate the fact that records management is a profession and just as one has to be trained to become a medical doctor, a lawyer, a teacher, an engineer, a nurse, etc, people have to be given the necessary training in records management to be able to perform well. We should not make the mistake to think that anybody at all can manage records. I always commend the Department of Information Studies, University of Ghana, Legon, for training a number of records managers from the Diploma level to the Master’s Degree Level. The skills and talents of these trained professionals should not be allowed to go waste but must be tapped to the advantage of not only the judicial service but to all companies and government organizations. As a nation, we are blessed to have a Department (The Public Records and Archives Administration Department –PRAAD), established to be responsible for the effective and efficient management of records in public institutions. This Department should be well resourced to be able to perform its expected responsibilities.

Today, it is about dockets which were missing in the law courts. Tomorrow, it may be about personal files that could not be traced in a ministry. And who knows, another time, it may be a whole organization/ company that may lose its documents to a disaster ( may God forbid). We should be guided by the saying “to be forewarned is to be forearmed” People, let us be more serious with record-keeping.

Writer’s e-mail: The writer is an archivist