IMPROVING THE JUSTICE FOR ALL PROGRAMME: VIEWS OF STAKEHOLDERS
The Justice for All Pragramme (JFAP) is an initiative of the Office of the Attorney-General and Ministry of Justice, introduced in Ghana in 2007 to help promote access to justice and for speedy trial of cases of remand prisoners. The programme, which has been in existence for the past 10 years aims at reducing prison overcrowding by setting up special in-prison courts to adjudicate remand prisoners’ cases throughout the country. The programme is implemented in collaboration with the Judicial Service, Police Service, Prisons Service, Legal Aid Commission, Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ) and some Civil Society groups.
JFAP is designed to reduce the congestion in the country’s prisons and promote prisoner rights, especially those of remand prisoners, prisoners whose trials are unreasonably delayed and prisoners whose cases meet the criteria of the programme. On all accounts, the programme constitutes a key component of the rule of law, access to justice and the sustained promotion and protection of the human rights of prisoners–both remand prisoners and convicted prisoners.
Available statistics indicates that since the inception of the programme in 2007, out of a total of 3,704 inmates who have appeared before the Justice for All courts, 723 were discharged, 1,193 were granted bail and 151 were convicted. The programme has saved millions of public funds in terms of the feeding grant the government spends on a prisoner daily. Overall, the share of remand prisoners of the total prison population in Ghana has witnessed a significant reduction from 33% in December 2007, when the programme was launched, to 12% in 2018.
The Research and Statistics Unit of the Office of the Attorney General and Ministry of Justice conducted a research on JFAP to document and collate issues that will form the basis for engagements and actions from the Ministry and other stakeholder institutions to improve the implementation of the programme.
The study relies on qualitative methodology to provide a comprehensive understanding of the issues understudy. The focus was to describe and collate the stakeholders’ views, experiences and perceptions as well as issues impacting on the progress of the programme. The survey’s respondents consisted of a cross-section of individuals and representatives of the Office of the Attorney-General, Judiciary, Police, Prisons, Legal Aid Commission, CHRAJ and representatives of some civil society groups such as POS Foundation and the African Women Lawyers Association. The research was undertaken between October and November 2018.
Of the 23 key informants interviewed, a substantial number are of the view that while there is no gainsaying that JFAP case selection process and criteria is quite robust, transparent and well structured, there is no manual or handbook on how the programme operates. Most of the stakeholders stated that the programme is not an adequate intervention to the delay in access to justice by remand prisoners. Some of the respondents said that though the programme has remedied some acts of gross miscarriage of justice, something more fundamental, something more far-reaching, needs to be done. One particular respondent remarked that “the system is crying for a radical overhaul in terms of the procedural law in particular, and the sanctions to be applied following conviction”. Another participant emphasised that JFAP no doubt was meant to be a temporary intervention to the problem, but has come to stay. He, however, indicated that “the high incidence of remand cases makes the Justice for All Programme still a relevant strategy that could facilitate access to justice for the high remand population in the country’s prisons.”
Interestingly, the study found out that albeit the programme is seen as a combined effort from stakeholders in the justice sector, it relies heavily on donor support and civil society groups. The study further found that much of the work in JFAP implementation, about 70-80% is done by paralegals who are mostly staff of civil society organisations (CSOs). These CSOs particularly POS Foundation play a very critical role in the programme implementation and sustenance of the programme. The majority of the participants therefore called for greater involvement of the government in the programme in the midst of receding donor support.
The study also collated views of stakeholders on public awareness and media reportage of the programme. While all the respondents agreed that the programme has helped in extending justice to remand prisoners and decongesting the prisons, some of them however added that not much information exist on how reformed the beneficiaries become in the society. In the absence of such information, media reports suggest the programme is a vehicle for releasing suspected criminals onto the streets. From the study, this emerged both explicitly and implicitly as one of the key reasons for the widespread dissatisfaction and lack of public support, participation and appreciation of the progarmme. Also, the stakeholders agreed that public participation in the programme was low and that people did not seem to understand its activities.
Conclusion and Recommendation
The Justice for All Programme, admittedly, is beneficial to the vulnerable and poor, who find themselves in detention, for one reason or the other, and who are unable to afford the legal fees. Nonetheless, the detention of individuals who are awaiting trial continues to alarm stakeholders in the justice sector. This justifies the continued existence of the programme and the need for the stakeholders and government to find ways of speeding up justice delivery for remand prisoners.
In light of the survey’s findings, it is recommended that there should be effective sensitisation and involvement of citizens in the programme. Effective tracking of the programme will enhance the timely response to issues relating to remand prisoners, especially women, and provide feedback to stakeholder institutions. In the same vein, the media must be engaged to be circumspect in their reportage by ensuring that stories are verified before publication in order not to undermine the programme.
Also, the relevance or achievement of the programme must be established to be able to really appreciate its continuous existence. There is the need for information that depict how reformed the beneficiaries of the programme become in the society. This will thwart the notion that beneficiaries of the programme go out of the prisons, only to commit the same crime that they were apprehended for.