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THE SPEED OF OUR COURTS. CAUSES OF DELAYS AND WHAT CAN BE DONE TO REDUCE THOSE DELAYS

 


 

Just recently, it was reported in the media that prosecution has closed its case against the 14 accused persons in the case of Major Mahama who was brutally murdered by a mob on May 29th 2017.

This has sparked interest in a long-standing topic on why cases delay so much in our courts. We are in 2022. It’s been 5 years since this matter started and I dare say the case has traveled only 50% of its potential life span in the court. (could be more or less)


The wheels of justice they, say grind slowly, but it grinds even slower in Ghana. Justice delayed is also said to be justice denied.

This write up is meant to highlight some of the things that causes delays in the writer’s opinion and to offer suggestions on what could be done to reduce these delays. The writer being a legal practitioner, some of these delays affects his work. He therefore believes, that it is in the interest of us all to understand some basics about these delay phenomena in order to help us all have confidence in the judicial system despite these delays and to also remind those with the power to act, to do something to help reduce these delays.

This article will attempt to discuss all the factors under the following topics.

1.     Number of Courts

2.     Low Technology and recording methods

3.     Ineffective rules against delays

These topics mentioned above might look that simple.  But they would require Economic means, Political will, and tact to be able to resolve them.

 

NUMBER OF COURTS

During his interview by parliament to become the Chief Justice of Ghana, His Lordship Justice Kwasi Anin-Yeboah was asked the question of what he will do to reduce the delays in the justice system in Ghana. In his answer, His Lordship mentioned the number of courts in Ghana to be less than 400 as one of the reasons why we have slow delivery of justice.

Indeed, he was very right. For a country of over 30 million people, we have only about 400 courts to deliver justice. In fact, there are so many districts in this country which do not have a district court. In my humble view, every electoral area in this country must have at least a district court if we want to achieve speedy delivery of justice.

The 400 number courts mentioned by His Lordship also includes the Supreme Court, the Appeals Courts and the High Courts. These are superior courts of Judicature which do not necessarily serve the everyday ordinary needs of petty conflicts and crimes which needs urgent attention. That means, our district and circuit courts might be less than 300.

 

This does not only affect litigants but also creates challenges for law enforcement officers who sometimes need to get quick court orders in order for them to be able to take some swift actions at the community levels.

The creation of new courts in practice is not entirely in the power of the Judicial Service. It also falls within the power of the Executive and Parliament because it requires significant financial commitments which cannot be raised by the Judicial Service on its own. The Acquisition of Lands, the construction of the courts, the commitment to recruit magistrates, judges as well as Judicial Service Staff and pay them emoluments. It therefore behooves on us all as citizens to demand these of our leaders if we so desire to have more courts in order to speed up justice delivery.

 

LOW TECHNOLOGY AND RECORDING METHODS

Upon the commencement of an action in court, be it criminal or civil, the speed of a trial is directly dependent on how fast a judge can write or how fast his/her clerks can type when they have a computer. Our recording system relies on low technology. We still use note book and pen in most courts. In the High Court Complex and the Supreme Court building, they have computers for recording during trials, but these computers require manual typing. Therefore, Lawyers and court users, have to speak slowly in order for their submissions to be captured accurately by the hard-working typing staff who type as lawyers argue in court.

 

The low number of courts mean that there is high number of cases on a judge. Therefore, the Judges also try to apportion their time to hear a little bit of every case in a typical day. In trials for example, most of the courts are usually not able to give more than one hour to one case for cross examination within a day because they need to give other cases a chance too. So, if for example, a case is given 45 minutes for cross examination, a lawyer might end up asking just 10 questions within that 45 minutes when he or she would have planned to ask about 50 questions. He will ask 10 because, he has to ask them slowly for it to be written or typed as he askes and the person being cross examined will also be giving answers which has to be written or typed as he speaks.

 

So just imagine the prosecutor in the Major Mahama Case, trying to prove her case against 14 accused persons who also have a right to defend themselves and who will also cross examine all the witnesses presented by the prosecution in court.

Mind you, because of the work load, most courts have adopted to adjourning cases to the maximum 30 days allowed in order to allow the court time to deal with all the other cases in queue before the adjourned case gets a chance to be in court again. In some instances, the diaries of the courts are so full that they cannot even adjourn to a nearer date within 30 days.     

After closing the prosecution’s case, the defenses counsel will also need the court records in order to either file his submission of no case or even commence his defense. These records will take time to compile. If it was typed, the faster. But if it was written, it has to be typed and sent to the judge for corrections before the registrar can issue them to anyone. Just imagine the time involved in all of this.

 

INEFFECTIVE RULES AGAINST DELAYS

Of course, lawyers and clients also sometimes cause gross delays in the conduct of cases. Even though the rules are against delays, it has become practically difficult to avoid delays.

Typical examples. A judge can order for parties to file their witness statements within a particular time and come to court to commence trial. Such orders are often not complied with and the only thing the judge could practically do is to impose fines or cost on the person who failed to comply within the stipulated time. The fines keep getting bigger yet, the delays still occur. It is difficult to strike out a case for non-compliance because it may occasion great injustice to one of the parties and often times, a case truck out could be started all over again depending on some other factors.

The net effect is that, the rules when all put together, have not been able to reduce delays in our courts.

In my view, the ultimate solution to a speeding administration of Justice will involve huge investment by the state in the following ways.

1.     Build more courts. This will ensure even distribution of cases and take off some of the pressures from the few courts we have. It will also improve justice delivery by giving the judges more time to be effective at their work. I was glad to hear the president H.E Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo say that all the new regions created are going to have High Courts. Its my prayer that this gesture is also extended to all the new districts we have created over the past almost 15 years. At least a circuit court in every district will be a good start.

2.     Invest in Technology. A lot of work has been done to improve technology in our courts over the years, but that much is still not adequate. In most courts, especially the lower courts, judges still take notes of all proceedings with their pen and note book. The E justice rolled out has not been all encompassing. Perhaps my idea may be wrong. But I think we should shift away from physical serving of documents to electronic serving of processes especially when all the parties have already come before the court and further processes needs to be filed. Sometimes, the attempt to look for parties to serve them physical becomes so difficult and cause so much delays. The Court Archives for example is so full of physical dockets and its always difficult to retrieve a docket which has gone into Archives. I believe we could scan all these files into cloud and make it very easy to retrieve whenever needed.

We will need to invest in some local technology companies to create an SIRI which can recognize our accent and pronunciations so that we reduce the physical typing of legal arguments in court.  

3.     Building more Courts also comes with having more judges and lawyers. I am not calling for a mass production of lawyers, but I believe we could produce more lawyers without compromising on quality. We have a country of over 30 million population and the Ghana Bar Association the main organization of lawyers and which 99 percent of lawyers are members boasts of only about 4,000 members. This will obviously make it difficult for the more Judges to be appointed even if more courts are built. I humbly call on the General Legal Counsel to consider alternative methods of rolling out legal Education in order to help the country to benefit from legal services across all sectors.  

 

This table below shows the total number of Lawyers in Ghana as distributed across the regions based on data from the Ghana Bar Association registered members as at 7th August, 2022. It is striking that the most populous region in Ghana, the Ashanti region, has only 406 Lawyers practicing in the region.

REGION

NUMBER OF LAWYERS

GREATER ACCRA

3490

ASHANTI REGION

406

WESTERN AND WESTERN NORTH

98

BONO, BONO EAST, AHAFO

82

EASTERN

79

CENTRAL REGION

76

VOLTA & OTI

31

NORTH, SAVANAH AND NORTH EAST

29

UPPER WEST

19

UPPER EAST

17




4327

 

From the facts as I know, it is my humble believe that the work load on our courts is perhaps the biggest reason why we have so much delays in justice delivery. This workload can systematically be reduced when we create more courts and train more lawyers to meet the rising numbers of our population.

 

Thank you for reading and sharing.

Your comments and suggestions are welcome.

RICHARD AMARH ESQ.

 

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