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Undue delays in Ghana’s criminal justice system worrying- CHRI

Stakeholders have expressed worry over the turn -around time that dockets submitted to the Attorney General’s (A-Gs) office for advice return to the police for prosecution.

They describe the current situation where suspects remain in detention for more than 48 hours as a result of delays in processing docket as extremely disturbing and unfair; particularly when they are proven innocent by the courts after trial.

According to the Commonwealth Human Right Initiative (CHRI), despite Constitutional provisions, prolonged delays have become the norm in the country’s criminal justice delivery escalating the problem of lengthy pre-trial detentions, denying fair trial in many cases and contributing to the problem of congestion in our police cells and prisons.

Article 19 (1) of the 1992 Constitution states that persons charged with a criminal offence shall be given a fair hearing ‘within a reasonable time’ by a court. The Constitution further provides that a detainee who has not been tried ‘within a reasonable time’ shall be released either unconditionally or subject to conditions necessary to ensure that persons appear in court at a later date. Under our present dispensation, the trend now is that these constitutional guaranteed rights are infringed upon.

Presenting a draft research findings conducted by the CHRI on the average turn-around time for cases that have been referred to the A-G in Accra recently, Edmund Amarkwei Foley, Head of Department, Public Law at the Ghana Institute of Management and Public Administration (GIMPA) emphasized that people must not stay in detention unduly.

According to him, Ghana prides itself with constitutional democracy and it is for these reasons that the state and all stakeholders involved must work together to deal with this kind of injustice and ensure that these clear constitutional principles are being obliged.

Mr Foley informed participants  that the  findings  were based  on a monitoring exercise by CHRI which took place in only 14 police stations in the  Greater  Accra Region  and the Ashanti Region Kumasi, from January to June this year; to determine the average turnaround time for cases referred to the Attorney-General’s (AG’s) Department for advice.

Cases reviewed included those for which the dockets have been referred to the AG’s Department and those under trial and have been consistently adjourned.

The objective of the study is to produce an evidence-based report on the average turn-around time for cases referred by the Police to the AG’s Department which will be used as an advocacy tool to support demands for improved case management structures to enhance justice delivery.

According to Mr Foley,of the 14 police stations, which were visited, they got responses from eight of them, of which three were in Accra  while  five were in Kumasi.

He said the findings were that out of a total number of 42 dockets from eight police stations that had been sent to the AG’s for advice, feedback on 29 had been received while 13 were still pending.

The dockets on which advice were given, majority 22 were between one and two months; adding that only two dockets lasted for more than nine months before advice was given.

With regard to the 13 pending dockets, Mr Foley indicated that most of them (eight) had been at the AG’s office for periods ranging from seven to 12 months.

“It appeared from the findings that cases were responded to within a shorter period in Kumasi as compared to Accra,” he added.

The research recommends improve staff strength at the AG’s Department, and that staff at AG’s Department working on cases should be separated from those prosecuting cases in court to enable the former have time to work on cases sent to them.

It called for proper supervision at the police stations to reduce the number of errors made to facilitate quick movement of cases from the stations to the A-G’s office.

 

Superintendent Elizabeth Viney, Director, Legal and Prosecution, Criminal Investigation Department of the Ghana Police Service, appealed to CHRI to also involve the CID Headquarters in the conduction of the study.

She said some of the causes of the delays in criminal prosecution were due to the numerous cases they receive.

Madam Esi Dentaa Yankah, State Attorney, Prosecution Division, Office of the AG, gave an overview of the work of the State Attorneys with regards to responding to dockets submitted by the Police to the AG’s Department for advice.

She said the Office of the Director of Public Prosecution was not adequately resourced for speedy response to cases; adding that “the major issue in terms of logistics was human resources. We have very low numbers of attorneys for the numbers of dockets that we receive in our office”.

On his part, Mr Gideon Neequaye, Project Officer, Access to Justice, CHRI, said over the years CHRI has been successful in ensuring that police stations that form part of its target area had been decongested by 50-70 per cent.

 

By Mohammed Suleman

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