JUSTICE FOR ALL AMIDST COVID 19; GHANA AS A MODEL FOR BEST PRACTICE
By Jonathan Osei Owusu
“The most affected and yet marginalized group of people amidst a Pandemic such as COVID-19 are Prisoners, Orphans and Persons living with Disabilities; they need assistance to survive, Lend a hand”. — Jonathan Osei Owusu (Executive Director, POS Foundation, Facilitator of Justice for All Programme)
Ghana’s Criminal Justice System though admired by many countries within the Sub-Region, faces several challenges which includes alarming prison overcrowding rate in addition to long Pre-trial/Remand cases. The introduction of the Justice For All Program /JFAP (Mobile Special Court Sittings in Prison) to adjudicate remand/pre-trial cases towards prisons decongestion have been one of the unique successful partnership between the State (Criminal Justice Institutions/Judicial Service of Ghana) and Civil Society Organizations (POS Foundation) in Ghana. This has brought significant reduction of remand prisoner population of 33% in 2007 during its inception to currently 14.5% as at August 2020.
Despite this remarkable feat and a desire to reduce the remand population to a single digit, COVID-19 posed as a serious threat, as activities were forced to be on hold. In view of this, the POS Foundation, Facilitators of the JFAP mooted the idea for a virtual court sitting to ensure the sustainability of the program to facilitate continuous delivery of Justice regardless of the Pandemic which has been approved by the Judicial Service of Ghana with its first sitting slated for October, 2020 to deal with the backlog of remand cases. This initiative is funded by the Government of Ghana and OSF/OSIWA while provision of logistics and facilitation is done by the POS Foundation with its able team of Paralegals and lawyers who relentlessly visit Prisons across Ghana to interview and file cases on behalf of Prisoners to ensure cases are being heard in a timely and effective manner. The Justice for All Virtual Court Sitting will continue to ensure that the promotion and protection of Human rights among prisoners are not infringed upon amidst COVID-19.
For instance, Kojo Obeng, 72 years charged with assault and Zuro Kuta, 65 years charged with murder, both discharged/beneficiaries of the JFAP spent 9 and 20 years at the Koforidua and Ankaful Annex Prisons respectively on remand/pre-trial detention. This is an example of many who continue to languish in prisons across Ghana on pre-trial detention with less hope of regaining their freedom without the intervention of the JFAP.
To expand the scope of work within the Justice sector amidst COVID-19, the POS Foundation in partnership with Ghana Prison Service and with funding from GIZ/ German Corporation and Open Society Foundation/OSIWA donated Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and organized training exercises to selected Prisons across the country to assist the fight against COVID-19 in our prisons. Fortunately for Ghana, the professionalism, strict adherence to precautionary Security protocols and contingency plans put in place by Ghana Prisons Service together with support from the Civil Society Organizations(CSO’s) have worked to prevent the spread of Covid-19 with “No Cases” recorded so far in our prisons. This made Ghana exceptional and a model for best practice to other countries, and made evident in a recent worldwide virtual meeting among major Justice Stakeholders organized by POS Foundation.
As one of the leading CSO within the Criminal Justice Sector, the POS Foundation in collaboration with State Agencies/stakeholders in other to ensure Prison decongestion are working tirelessly in the introduction of the Community Service law and activating Probation and Parole as well as supporting the effective implementation of the new Narcotics Control Commission Law 2020.
Indeed, the JFAP and the COVID-19 Emergency Relief Program selected by the Paris Peace Forum is expected to significantly contribute to the continuous Justice delivery received by the poor/marginalized and prisoners amidst COVID-19 and with the introduction of technology to go JFAP Virtual Court Sitting, this can serve as a model of best practice of which already other countries have understudied and replicating same. I personally will describe JFAP as an intervention in Ghana over the years as solving the Dilemma between Crime Control and Due Process.
Views expressed in this publication are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Paris Peace Forum.
Jonathan Osei Owusu (Executive Director, POS Foundation, Facilitator of Justice for All Programme)