Defend underprivileged members of society, not state employers… Attorney-General charges Legal Aid C’ssion Defenders Division

Defend underprivileged members of society, not state employers… Attorney-General charges Legal Aid C’ssion Defenders Division

The Attorney-General and Minister for Justice, God­fred Yeboah Dame, has advised the Public Defenders Di­vision of the Legal Aid Commis­sion to defend the underprivileged members of the Ghanaian public, not their state employers.

At the inauguration of the newly created division in Accra yesterday, he said public defenders at the office should not consider themselves as an extension of the government that hires them and only work to support its interests.

• Mr Godfred Dame (middle) in a chat with Mr Kporha at the programme. With them is Ms Rachel Rossi Photo: Victor A. Buxton
Mr Godfred Dame (middle) in a chat withMr Kporha at the programme. With them is

Ms Rachel Rossi Photo: Victor A. Buxton

“Without public defenders, all citizens would not be able to access legal representation, and a vital aspiration of the constitution of the land would be unfulfilled. Through your services, the gov­ernment meets the requirements of the country’s primary laws.

“It is thus imperative that you discharge your duties profession­ally and ethically, with your duty to the poor as your watchword,” he said.

The division will provide free legal assistance and criminal de­fence services for Ghanaians ac­cused of crimes but cannot afford legal representation, a departure from the Commission’s focus over the years.

It will provide services to the marginalised, the poor, juvenile and other categories of peo­ple from the moment they are charged through to trial while per­sons charged with capital offences would be supported.

Set up with support from the United States Department of Justice, the division is in line with the Legal Aid Commission Act, 2018 (Act 977) which establishes new divisions including the Citi­zens Advisory Division, and the Alternative Dispute Resolution Division.

Of these new divisions, Mr Dame said the Public Defenders’ Division, was the most viable in­strument for levelling out inequal­ities and ensuring the attainment of a necessary attribute of a truly sound legal system – the afford­ability of legal representation.

“I am resolute in my conviction that, effectively developed, the Public Defenders Division of the Legal Aid Commission, possesses the ability to lay solid blocks for the attainment of equity, justice and fairness in Ghanaian society,” he said.

To support the recently launched Legal Aid Fund, he promised to liaise with the Min­istry of Finance to ensure that every year, the government con­tributes at least Ghc1 million, to the Fund while other needs of the commission would be addressed.

The Board Chairman of the Le­gal Aid Commission, Justice Nene Amegatcher, in a speech read on his behalf said the important role of law was in protecting funda­mental freedoms.

He said with Ghana being a signatory, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the principles and guidelines of access to legal aid in criminal justice systems and other international instruments dedicated to legal aid, the new division would satisfy the country’s obligation.

The Director of the Office for Access to Justice, Ms Rachel Ros­si, said right to representation was non-negotiable and that the US would continue to support Ghana to improve the right to justice.

“The histories of Ghana and the United States are intertwined and linked, and together to strengthen the rule of law and our democracies will continue the legacy of great Ghanaian and American leaders,” She said.

The Acting Head of Division, Mr Nelson Mawutor Kpoha, said the division would help expedite action on the increasing number of criminal cases the Commission had received.

He said the division had been divided into units that would han­dle different categories of cases while a significant number of lawyers had been dedicated to the division to speed up its work.

BY JONATHAN DONKOR

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