General News of Thursday, 21 December 2017
A civil society group, Criminal Justice Reform Association (CJRA), Wednesday petitioned the Attorney-General (A-G) for reforms in the criminal justice system of the country to help protect the fundamental human rights and liberties of people.
To support the reforms, the non-partisan group of lawyers, journalists, students and other professionals, presented a proposal on eight areas of the criminal justice system that needed reforms to a Deputy A-G, Mr Godfred Yeboah Dame.
The proposals include- scrapping the use of police officers as prosecutors, reforming the rules that governed disclosure of evidence and allowing the law courts to sit during holidays and weekends to hear bail applications.
Other proposals presented by the group were the setting up a of criminal case review commission to review the legality and fairness of criminal convictions, reforming the prisons, promoting the use of DNA technology in criminal cases as well as reforming the law courts.
Police prosecutors Speaking during the presentation, the convener of the group, Mr Martin Kpebu described the country’s criminal justice system as outdated and one that did not fully protect the rights and liberties of people.
He said the use of policemen as prosecutors, a role supposed to be performed by lawyers, had outlived its usefulness and must be scrapped.
Police prosecutors, he said, had little legal education and did not really appreciate the importance of upholding the rights of people facing criminal prosecution
“A typical police officer is more interested in conviction than a fair trial because it helps in the fight against crime which is his main occupation,’’ he said.
“Ambush litigation” On the issue of pretrial disclosure of evidence, Mr Kpebu, said the criminal justice system of the country still encouraged “ambush litigation” in most cases.
“Before a trial, the prosecution must furnish the defence team with all the witness statements and evidences that it would employ in the trail, but this is not done in most cases,’’ he said.
He dismissed arguments by certain people that the disclosure of evidence before a trial would jeopardise the trial because the accused persons would structure their defence to counter those evidence.
“The disclosure of evidence before a trial would rather help defence teams on whether or not to challenge the claims of the prosecution. If the defence team realise that there is overwhelming evidence, it would not even challenge the charges,’’ he said.
Mr Kpebu called on all the relevant stakeholders in the justice delivery system of the country to make it a priority to reform the criminal justice system.
“If we are serious about democracy, then we need such reforms to ensure that right, freedoms and personal liberties of people are fully respected,’’ he stated.
Receiving the proposals, Mr Dame lauded CJRA for coming up such an initiative and promised that the A-G would factor them into its own scheme of proposed reforms.
“These proposals are very important because people have a perception that the justice delivery system of the country is slow,’’ he said.