Ghanaians Losing Confidence In Court System - AG report

More Ghanaians are losing confidence in the ability of the courts to dispense justice as a result of frequent delays in case adjudication and the rising cost of hiring lawyers, a draft report of a study commissioned by the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice has shown. Seventy-two per cent of respondents sampled in the survey said although they had knowledge of the formal justice system, they were challenged by the delays and frequent adjournment of proceedings and the cost of initiating a legal process, including hiring a lawyer. A 90 per cent majority of the respondents also rated the system as "highly corrupt", while, out of that figure, 70 per cent claimed to have paid bribes to officials in the justice sector for services rendered. On the percentage spread of the justice sector corruption, 32 per cent of the respondents had made unofficial payments to Police officers. Similarly, 27 per cent had made payments to Judicial officers. Further, 23 per cent of those interviewed paid monies to prosecutors. Finally, 5 per cent stated they had paid bribes to Prison Service officials. Many of the people who were interviewed would rather use other avenues to seek legal redress, aside the court. Twenty-three per cent said they preferred the chief's palace, with 49 per cent looking elsewhere for help. Only 28 per cent of the respondents said they would go to the courts to have their disputes settled. The study, undertaken by Law and Development Associates, a law consultancy firm, will form the 2012 Baseline Survey of the Justice Sector of Ghana. Overall, 946 respondents were fully interviewed for the survey. An additional 55 interviews were conducted using the in-depth interview guide. From the data, 63.3, per cent of the total number of respondents fall within the 18-35 age bracket, whereas 1.6 per cent were 60 years and above. Although the Legal Aid Scheme has been established by the Constitution to provide for the right of citizens to legal counsel, the right to fair trial and the right to be equal before the law, 79 per cent of respondents had no knowledge of the existence or operation of legal aid in the country. Speaking at a meeting of stakeholders in the sector to validate the survey, the Attorney-General and Justice Minister, Dr Ben Kunbour, said the process was critical in fine-tuning a reform of the justice sector to improve delivery. According to him, the government desired a justice system that was independent, transparent and free from corruption to aid national development. He noted with regret that most studies conducted into several areas of concern to the country had been abandoned and expressed the hope that the baseline survey would be treated with all the needed attention. The survey and the entire reform process is being supported by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). The Country Director of the UNDP, Mr Kamil Kamaluddeen, said his outfit welcomed the government's strong political commitment to see that the 2012 Baseline Survey set the tone for a more effective way of undertaking reforms in the justice sector. According to him, the study provided a veritable platform for informing future reform priorities and investments in the sector. To the extent that the survey was representative of the population of Ghana, those were serious findings that should inform priority setting and future interventions for justice delivery in Ghana, Mr Kamaluddeen said. He said the UNDP would continue to assist in such national policy formulations, as justice was at the core of building a peaceful country.