The first ever virtual court sitting to adjudicate cases of remand prisoners has been held under the Justice For All Programme (JFAP).
The JFAP was usually held in prisons through makeshift courts.
This year’s edition was held virtually because of the challenges associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Cases of nine (9) inmates at the Akuse Prison were heard. Five (5) inmates were granted bail, one bail application was refused, another declined on ground of jurisdiction and two other cases adjourned indefinitely.
In all, seven (7) prisons – Akuse local prison, Nsawam Medium Security prison, Kumasi Central prison, Koforidua, Sekondi, Tarkwah, and Sunyani prisons, are expected to benefit from the virtual court sittings.
Chief Justice Anin Yeboah, in a speech read on his behalf by Justice Gabriel Pwamang, a Supreme Court judge, at the opening ceremony, commended the organisers, noting that COVID-19 pandemic had also affected justice delivery in the country.
“The COVID-19 pandemic as we all know has hit the world severely and crippled many economies and systems. Ghana was not exempt from the impact of the pandemic and its criminal justice system also felt the effect of this scotch.
The beauty of life is that when we see challenges, we should confront them strategically and turn them into opportunities so that we can bring solutions for the benefit of society.”
The Chief Justice commended court users, lawyers and other partners in the justice sector for their cooperation in keeping the administration of justice running.
“This is worth mentioning because freedom and justice, especially for marginalized and vulnerable in society is critical even in a pandemic,” he asked.
He noted that due to the pandemic, the JFAP had not been able to physically enter the country’s prisons over a year.
Chief Justice Yeboah said Justice For all Virtual court sitting was being introduced to tackle the issue of overcrowded prisons from the angle of remand prisoners by sending what used to be the mobile court in prisons to the doorstep of prisoners through technology.”
Justice Anin Yeboah said for the first time, JFAP was being funded by the Government of Ghana and the Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA), adding that previously the programme was solely donor-funded.
“This is an effort to ensure that persons on prolonged pre-trial detention can appear before a court with the help of technology to have their cases reviewed, such that the court can consider the grant of bail or discharge depending on the facts of each case or even determine the main case where the trial would not be long or a detainee voluntarily decides to plead guilty, “the Chief Justice noted.
Mr. Godfred Yeboah Dame, Minister of Justice and Attorney General, said the JFAP had established itself as a veritable mechanism for realising some of the fundamental principles of fair trial underpinning the criminal justice system and the country’s jurisprudence.
Mr Dame said the JFAP represented a positive resolve to ensure that justice was not denied the underprivileged and the many remand prisoners around the country who ordinarily, would not have had their cases heard by court of law especially in a COVID-19 era.
“So today, a remand prisoner can be in the confines of where he is kept and still have his application for bail considered and granted by the court without the hustle of being moved about town to attend a hearing in a physical court. He leaves prison today to the comfort of his home after having his bail application heard and granted virtually. This is the truest expression for justice for all,” the AG posited.
Justice Clemence Honyenuga, presiding over the cases, said the JFAP had led to a reduction in the prison population from 33 per cent in the year 2007 to 13 per cent currently.
He said a total of 4,512 inmates as at January 2020 had appeared before court under the Justice For All Programme and out of which 839 were discharged, 1,596 granted bail, 180 convicted and 28 referred to psychiatric hospitals.
Justice Honyenuga charged police investigators in Criminal cases to “be proactive in their work and not leave the vulnerable remand inmates to languish in jail for months and years under the cover of COVID-19 pandemic.”
The Justice for All Programme, which is organised by the POS Foundation, started in 2007 and it is aimed at easing prison overcrowding through setting up special in-prison court sittings to adjudicate cases of prisoners on remand.