The husband of the Vice-President of the United States of America, Douglas Emhoff, has lauded Ghana’s judicial system as a promoter of equal access to justice for its citizenry.
Contributing during a four-member panel discussion of Access to Justice in Ghana, Mr Emhoff said he was enthused about how key stakeholders such as the Office of the Attorney-General, the Judiciary and the Legal Aid Commission were passionate about providing equality to justice and fair trial, indicating that the country was on “the right track”, and must be supported.
He said as once a legal practitioner, he had always been proud to be a voice for the voiceless, and had performed that duty through pro-bono cases he did for persons who needed assistance in legal matters.
Mr Emhoff also talked about the passion with which his wife, Vice-President Kamala Harris, who as a prosecutor, handled major cases that ensured that at the end of the day, justice was served.
He challenged lawyers in the country to support the work of the Legal Aid Commission as a public defender by offering pro-bono services to persons who needed legal assistance.
“It is an honour to be a lawyer,” he stated, adding that being a lawyer — a childhood dream — had been an accomplishment for him.
“Nobody should be alone when your life and liberty is at stake. You need a lawyer,” he said, stressing the point that it must be a priority of the country to ensure that everybody who needed help in the justice system received it.
As part of effort to beef up the technological capacity of the Legal Aid Commission, Mr Emhoff, on behalf of the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL), Agency of Department of Justice, presented 54 laptops to the commission.
Mr Emhoff said legal aid, not only in Ghana, needed resources and logistics to perform, and, therefore, must be supported.
He said the donation was part of the US government’s effort to promote equal justice for people around the world.
Mr Emhoff also called for women to be supported to take leadership positions to enable them to contribute to the development of the country.
Citing his wife as an inspiration that called for women and girls to be “lifted up”, he urged men to support women, especially their wives, to achieve greater heights, saying the men would end up equally benefitting from such support.
Other panel members included a Court of Appeal judge, Justice Afia Serwaa Asare-Botwe; the Deputy Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Diana Asonaba Dapaah, and the acting Executive Director of the Legal Aid Commission, Ellen Adwoa Sowa, with a Justice of the Supreme Court, Nene Amegatcher, moderating the discussion.
Ms Dapaah noted that Ghana, as a democratic state, had always worked towards promoting equal access to justice, indicating that the country had complied with all the tenets of the rule of law as there were laws that guaranteed the right of accused persons to counsel.
The courts, she noted, had contributed to this by being bold in ensuring that accused persons had legal representation in their cases.
The challenge to equal justice, she noted, however, had been the cost of legal advice and representation, and called for more support for the Legal Aid Commission to effectively champion this cause.
Ms Sowa said the regulations to access to justice were adequate on paper, but its implementation was a challenge as the commission lacked the human resource to undertake the task.
Legal Aid has only 57 lawyers, 34 of them biased in criminal adjudication.
The country, she said, needed to ensure that the laws to access to justice worked by supporting the institution to deliver on its mandate effectively.
Justice Asare-Botwe added that the judiciary had been a strong advocate of the rule of law and access to justice, and, therefore, had ensured that no provisions trampled on the rights of people.
She said there had been a lot of improvement in dealing with criminal cases especially, citing the law not to keep a suspect in custody beyond 48 hours as having been strictly upheld by the court to ensure that the rights of people were not violated.