By: KALD | Voltaonlinegh.com |
The Justice for All Programme (JFAP) has made yet another stop at the Ho Central Prisons to hear the cases of some remand inmates who have been in custody without trial for several years.
The programme which has in the last 12 years been the source of relief for many remand but forgotten prisoners in the country, has once brought smiles on the faces of 16 inmates of the Ho Prisons who gained their freedom albeit temporarily after appearing before the JFAP special court session on on Friday.
Two courts, sitting concurrently in the prison yard, and presided over by Justice Clemence Honyenuga, a Court of Appeal Judge and Supervisor of JFAP, and Justice Eric Baah, Supervising High Court judge for the Volta region, heard a total of 27 applications, of which 14 were granted bail and two others discharged unconditionally.
Two of the inmates were convicted but bonded, while eight of the 27 applications were refused by the special courts, with one application was also struck out.
Some of the people who appeared before the ‘Justice for All’ special court, according Prison authorities, have been remand since 2013.
One of the two who were discharged unconditionally, anonymously indicated that, “but for this programme I would have been here, for God knows how long. There are people who have been on remand for more than two years. They all need a fair hearing and an equal opportunity like me.”
The JFAP, though predates the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), its objective perfectly fits the goal 16 of the SDGs which among other things seeks to provide ‘access to justice for all’
-The Ho Central Prisons currently house about 500 inmates.
– 89 of them are persons on remand
– The initial inmate capacity of the Prison is 150.
The situation is same across the country. According to the Ghana Prisons Service the total prisoner population as at December 2018 was 14,910 instead of the actual capacity of 9,875. The figure which represents 51% overcrowding rate, comprised 13,000 convicts and 1,910 pre-trial prisoners (un-convicted persons).
Apart from this, each prisoner is entitled to a feeding fee of GHC1.80 daily, an amount officials say was woefully inadequate to provide a balanced three square meal for inmates. As a result, the health of inmates is being compromised.
Human Rights Abuse
The report by the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment, Juan Mendez indicted Ghana on these deplorable conditions which is below the United Nations Minimum Standard Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (Nelson Mandela Rules).
The report also decried how remand (pre-trial detention) sometimes leave people to serve longer than the actual sentence of their crimes, even before they are tried. Some also spent several years for crime they did not commit, all because of remand.
Chief Justice Entourage
The JFAP in-prison special court session was witnessed by the Chief Justice, Sophia Akuffo and a delegation of development partners, comprising directors of UN Organizations and some female ambassadors/High commissioners in Ghana.
The entourage, includes the South Africa High Commissioner, Lulama Mary-Theresa Xingwana, US ambassador – Stephanie Sullivan and the UN Resident Coordinator in Ghana, Sylvia Lopez.
They were on a mission to assess the impact of the Justice for All Programme, introduced in 2007 by government to decongest the country’s prisons through mobile court hearings of remand cases at the prisons.
In a remark, Chief Justice Akuffo decried the situation which she said was a clear abuse of the rights of the prisoners and their right to fair trial. She said the status quo did not promote freedom, justice, peace and inclusiveness as envisioned by the Constitution and also the Global agenda of the Sustainable Development Goals.
To this end, she hinted of plans to decentralize the programme to the regional level in 2020 so that supervising High Court Judges in the various regions will go into the prisons on quarterly basis to adjudicate remand cases.
“One of the things that will be happening in January is the decentralization of the Justice For All programme so that it becomes the responsibility of the Supervising High Court Judge of each region. At least every quarter, you go to the prison to do the cleaning work so that increasingly we reduce or completely do away with people who are being remanded for too long while we waiting for other procedural laws that would enable different ways of managing criminal cases.”
The Volta Regional Commander of Prisons, DDP Andrews Dzokoto said the Justice for All Programme was helpful to remand inmates, who have not stepped in the court for years. Adding that, the programme was gradually decongesting the prisons and commended the stakeholders for sustaining it.
He also appeal for an increment in the inmates daily feeding fee of GHc1.80 to reflect the exigencies of the times.
About Justice for All Programme
The Justice For All Pragramme started in 2007 was aimed at alleviating prison overcrowding through setting up special courts sittings to adjudicate remand prisoner cases in prisons throughout the country.
It was initiated by the then Attorney-General’s Department in close collaboration with the Judicial Service of Ghana, the Ghana Police Service, the Ghana Prisons Service, Lawyers, Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice and Civil Society Groups, especially POS Foundation.