The Ghana Prisons Service in the Ashanti Region is hopeful of decongesting its facilities with the opening of an In-Prison Paralegal Office at the Kumasi Central Prisons.

The IPP which targets criminal convicts, tailgates from the successes chalked in the Justice For All Program which has so far reduced Ghana’s remand prisoner population ratio from 33% to 8.8% since the initiative begun its special mobile court hearings in the year 2007.

Convicts desiring to appeal unsatisfactory sentences but lack the finances to secure the services of a lawyer, can now take advantage of these paralegal officers to file legally competent appeals processes and properly represent themselves during appeals proceedings.

With the In-prison Paralegal Office; Prison Officers, external parties and selected prison inmates themselves have been trained to guide convicts draft legal processes to appeal their sentences.

These Paralegals trained by Civil Society Organization, Perfector of Sentiments (POS) Foundation and its collaborators from Ghana’s Criminal Justice Administration actors include prison officers, external bodies and prison inmates themselves whose backgrounds lent them favorably to the program.

Addressing the opening of a workshop held to herald the commissioning of the In – Prison paralegal office, Executive director of the POIS Foundation, Johnathan Osei Owusu expressed concern Ghana was facing a ballooning convict population because inmates cannot afford legal services.

“The convict population is going up and the biggest challenge for most of them is that they do not have the financial muscle to get a lawyer to fight for them,” he observed.

Mr. Osei Owusu indicated that even though the law allowed accused persons facing some lesser degrees of criminal offenses to self-represent in the absence of a lawyer, the weight of the legal obligation on the accused rendered many incapable of competently presenting their cases for fair hearing.

He wondered how the accused persons would conduct their own cases when some lawyers with all their training felt inadequate before higher courts like the Appeals and Supreme Court.

“This is the reason we thought there is the need to train paralegals who are officers and inmates at the prisons so that if they want to write on some submission that takes an experienced lawyer, they can help them get those done,” he indicated.

The In-Prison Paralegal Office comes to the Kumasi Central Prisons at a time the facility holds 1800 prison inmates thrice its capacity of 600 inmates.

Ashanti Regional Commander of prisons DDP Eric Ainoo Ansah was positive the initiative will be especially helpful to prison facilities in the Ashanti Region detailed to take in convicts directly from the courts.

“We have seven prisons in the region out of which four namely Kumasi Central Prisons, Manhyia Local Prisons, Obuasi local and Kumasi Female Prisons admit prisoners directly from the courts. It is only the Kumasi Central Prisons equipped to hold high risk prisoners of all categories except for condemned prisoners.”

Consequently, the prison is almost always congested. Hence any activity which seeks to legally reduce the number of inmates in our custody is highly welcomed,” he commended.

Appeals Court Judge, Justice Sir Dominic Adjei who chaired the event insisted that Ghana has no excuse under international human rights to allow persons charged with criminal offenses to appear in court without legal representation.

He however expressed confidence in the ability of the In Prison Paralegal Program to provide the stop gap measure as the state works towards beefing up its lawyer population and realigning its statutes.

“The African court’s decision is that once a state has executed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, it is mandatory to ensure that any person charged with a criminal offence shall be represented irrespective of the nature of the offence. The excuse has always been that if you look at the number of accused persons and the number of lawyers in the country, you cannot have enough lawyers for those accused persons,”

So it is very important that we establish paralegal offices like this because we don’t have enough lawyers in the country to support them” he added.

The initiative spearheaded by the POS Foundation and the GHANA Prisons Service enjoys the support of the Attorney Generals Department with funding from the GIZ’s promotion of the rule of law and justice program.

The opening and handing over of certificates to the paralegals was graced by funding partners – GIZ; the leadership of the Ghana Prisons Service; Members of the Judiciary and Officers of the Attorney Generals Department as well as the leadership of the Justice For All Program.

Source: Ghana/ Heathcote – Fumador