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The Perils of Access to Justice in Ghana - Legal aid and representation

Legal aid and representation

Australian governments recognise that access to legal representation is an important element in ensuring justice for all. They provide some legal aid for people assessed as being least able to afford to cover the costs of a court appearance. The federal Attorney-General’s Department is responsible for administering funding for the provision of legal aid services for federal law matters through legal aid commissions, administering a Community Legal Services Program and managing legal aid services for Indigenous Australians. State and territory governments fund legal aid services for cases being tried under state and territory law. There are eight independent legal aid commissions, one in each of the states and territories, with a total budget of around $400 million. Funding is provided by the federal government and state and territory governments. Other revenue comes from interest earnings, contributions and fees.

Investigating complaints and reviewing administrative decisions

Specific agencies also exist to protect the legal and administrative rights of all people in Australia, including the Commonwealth Ombudsman, the Migration Review Tribunal, the Refugee Review Tribunal, the Administrative Appeals Tribunal and the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission.

The position of Commonwealth Ombudsman was created in 1977 to consider and investigate complaints from people who believe they have been treated unfairly or unreasonably by a federal government department or agency. The ombudsman cannot override decisions made by agencies or issue directions to agency staff. Instead, the ombudsman resolves disputes through consultation and negotiation and, if necessary, by making formal recommendations to the most senior levels of government.

There is also an ombudsman in Western Australia (appointed in 1971), Victoria (1972), Queensland (1974) and New South Wales (1974). The Commonwealth Ombudsman acts as the ombudsman for the Australian Capital Territory. Two separate tribunals provide independent and final merits reviews of decisions made about visas to enter or stay in Australia. The Migration Review Tribunal reviews decisions made about general visas (including visitor, student, partner, family, business and skilled). The Refugee Review Tribunal deals with decisions regarding protection (refugee) visas.

Administrative Appeals Tribunal

The Administrative Appeals Tribunal began operations in July 1976 and is part of the federal Attorney-General’s portfolio. It is an independent body that conducts merits reviews of a wide range of administrative decisions made by other tribunals and by federal government ministers, officials and authorities. The Administrative Appeals Tribunal has jurisdiction to review decisions made under more than 400 separate Acts and legislative instruments.

Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission

The Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission was established in 1986 as an independent statutory organisation reporting to the federal parliament through the Attorney-General. Its goals are to foster understanding about, and protection of, human rights in Australia and to address human rights concerns. Its functions include resolving complaints of discrimination or breaches of human rights under federal law and holding public inquiries into human rights issues of national importance.

Law enforcement and police

The police in Australia are responsible for keeping peace and order in the community and bringing before the court people they believe have broken the law. Although police officers may arrest people and give evidence in court, they do not decide whether or not people are guilty of crimes. This is the responsibility of the courts. Australia has a national police force- the Australian Federal Police- that investigates offences against federal laws, including drug trafficking, illegal immigration, crimes against national security and crimes against the environment. All states of Australia and the Northern Territory have their own police forces that deal with crimes under state or territory laws. Policing in the Australian Capital Territory is handled by the Australian Federal Police.

Australian Crime Commission

The Australian Crime Commission was established in January 2003 (replacing the National Crime Authority) as an independent statutory body to work nationally with federal, state and territory agencies, principally to counter serious and organised crime. It brings together all arms of Australian intelligence gathering and law enforcement to coordinate the fight against major crime. On International legal cooperation and treaties, Australia seeks to promote international cooperation in the legal sector.

The federal government established the International Legal Services Advisory Council in 1990 to promote the globalisation of legal services. The council seeks among others, to promote understanding of different countries’ laws, legal systems and legal institutions, particularly in the areas of trade, business and international law. It also contributes to the development of legal institutions, education and training, and legal interchanges and contacts. Combating transnational crime and terrorism is also a high priority. International cooperation ensures that criminals cannot evade justice simply by crossing borders ( http://www.dfat.gov.au/facts/legal_system.html).

The Perils in Ghana

Apart from the legal aid or help dilemmas, the greatest perils of access to justice in Ghana are lack of coordination, timely communication among the interested parties to litigation. In majority of cases, people summoned for court hearing come from faraway to court centres only to be told at the last-hour that his/her case docket cannot be traced or the trial judge is bereaved or indisposed. Some lawyers, including clients, also fail to attend to court without reasonable excuse, thereby, prompting unnecessary adjournments. Others parade on the corridors of justice in search of their case venues. Although they have been told to appear, their names could not be found on the case list pasted on the notice board. A lawyer friend concedes that this legal traffic-jam could be resolved if there were to be co-ordination between the courts’ helpdesks and the practicing firms but how long will this be?

Yes- the Law Society UK’s Access to Justice Review report published in 2010 reveals that improving access to justice should not be the sole responsibility of the legal profession because it is the fundamental basis for the rule of law and civilised society. An area where Ghanaian policy makers could make an important contribution is, for example, through developing people’s legal literacy and capability through public legal education so that they understand their legal rights and responsibilities and are better equipped [through brochures and leaflets] to anticipate, and avoid, legal difficulties. The courts’ current filing system [piled folders], is the greatest challenge to justice.

Researched and Compiled By Asante Fordjour for The OmanbaPa Research Group

Credit JusticeGhana.com



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