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Public Defenders Division of Legal Aid Commission launched

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Public Defenders X
Public Defenders X

The United States Department of Justice in collaboration with the Ghana Legal Aid Commission on Wednesday launched the Public Defenders Division (PDD) of the Legal Aid Commission (LAC), in Accra.

The Division is expected to provide legal assistance and criminal defense services for Ghanaians accused of crimes that they could not afford legal representation.

Mr Godfred Yeboah Dame, Attorney-General and Minister for Justice, said the establishment of the new Division of the Commission, was by far the most far-reaching innovation introduced to project the capacity of the Institution as a robust vehicle for the delivery of a sound legal aid service.

He said the launch of the PDD was an important one for the socio-economic development of the nation, since access to legal services was crucial to the efficient functioning of every sphere of a nation’s life.

“Every modern democratic state provides legal assistance for the poor in some criminal cases and provide legal representation and advice in civil cases, and the PDD will provide a sturdy avenue for comprehensive legal assistance to the Ghanaian citizen in all cases.”

The AG said a public defender is a lawyer appointed by the State to represent people who otherwise could not reasonably afford the services of a lawyer to defend themselves at a trial, and that the establishment of the Division was at the heart of legal aid in the country.

He said the Division was the most viable instrument for levelling out inequalities and ensuring the attainment of a necessary attribute of a truly sound legal system.

“The gap between the demand for legal services and their supply will be bridged. The ultimate result of this will be a reduction, if not complete elimination, of systemic inequities and disadvantages in the Ghanaian society.”

Mr Dame noted that the justice gap did not only affect those living in poverty but perpetuate poverty, adding: “It comes at great cost to the government; thus, government owes a duty to the citizenry to create a system of public legal defence whereby the poor will be provided with legal services to avert undesirable consequences for the State.”
He said by providing public defenders for the poor in cases involving denial of access to health care and domestic violence, saved the State money and created many incalculable social and economic benefits.

It would increase awareness of legal rights in the country and reduce potential claims against the State.
Ms Racheal Rossi, Director, Office for Access to Justice, Washington DC, said public defenders occupied a vital role in a free and fair society, ensuring due process for all.

“They guard against encroachment on human and civil rights, expose corruption and misfeasance, and protect against wrongful conviction, while contributing to strengthened rule of law and a vibrant democracy.”

She said the importance of the role centred on the power of public defense to change lives, not only for the criminally accused, but for other judicial actors and for the broader community as well.

She said Ghana and the United States both had much work to do as the challenge before them to establish a robust public defense function was great.

“We must use our government and leadership platforms to highlight and visibly support the vital role of public defenders in defending human rights, supporting the rule of law and ensuring the integrity of justice system.”

Ms Rossi said both countries must also elevate the voices of public defenders as part of efforts to develop longer term and system wide reforms to make societies more just and fairer, and to create opportunities for information-sharing and collaboration to lift best practices.

She said: “We must also employ a whole of government, and a people-centered approach to advancing access to justice.”
Mrs Ellen A. Sweetie Sowa, Ag. Executive Director, LAC, said the Commission since its establishment in 1987 had given hope to the hopeless who could not afford legal services.

She said public defenders would assist persons in need of legal assistance for the realisation of the right of equality before the law and for fair trial, to act as public defenders for the realisation of articles 14, 17 and 19 under the 1992 constitution, and provide legal aid to persons in police and prison custody and juveniles.

“They are also to ensure that persons arrested, restricted, detained or accused of any offence are afforded the appropriate legal assistance and defends, and to defend persons accused of crimes and indicted for offence punishable by life imprisonment.”

The Commission has offices in 10 out of the 16 regions and 50 districts out of the 254 districts across the country.

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