Strengthening Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) legislation to cover minor crimes will inure to the benefit of the poor and vulnerable in society, Madam Mina Mensah, Director, Africa Office of Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, has observed.
She said they constituted most petty offenders who were often incarcerated because of their inability to pay fines imposed on them by the courts for committing petty/minor offences which fall under misdemeanor.
The Director was speaking at a stakeholder’s roundtable discussion in Kumasi on the need to review the ADR Act and the Legal Aid Commission Act, to allow some petty/minor crimes to be resolved through ADR.
That, she noted, would not only ensure the poor access to justice in a friendlier and timeous manner but also reduce congestions at the courts, overcrowding in prisons and discouraging the over reliance on custodial sentences that leaves the complainants mostly unsatisfied because they are neglected in the prosecutorial process.
The event was put together by CHRI, an implementing partner of the USAID Justice Sector Support Activity.
The purpose of the Activity is to strengthen the Case Tracking System (CTS) through citizen engagement, empowerment, and the voice to demand accountability and improve services.
With funding from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the project also seeks to eliminate injustices in Ghana’s criminal justice system through several interventions.
Participants for the discussion were drawn from the Department of Social Welfare, Private ADR Practitioners, Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ), Ghana Prison Services, Legal Aid Commission, National Commission for Civic Education (NCCE) and the Attorney General’s Department.
Madam Mensah said the poor and marginalized continued to suffer imprisonment in cases that could be resolved amicably, thereby contributing to overcrowding in prisons.
“When we are talking about minor offences, it is normally the poor who have problems when they commit such offences and are supposed to access justice,” she pointed out.
She charged the participants to share their experiences and perspectives on how best to review the two Acts, to improve on justice delivery in the country.
Ms. Esther Kumah, Administrator, Ghana ADR Hub, said using ADR mechanisms to resolve petty/minor cases was critical to effective justice delivery because it would ease the burden on courts and reduce crowding in prisons.
“We are looking at Victim Offender Mediation which is a subset of restorative justice as the preferred ADR process for the resolution of petty criminal offences. What we aim to achieve is that the victim gets involved in the dispute resolution process and the reintegration of the offender back into the society,” she observed.
She bemoaned the low level of public education on ADR, and applauded CHRI and its partners for spearheading the campaign for people to embrace the concept.