The government decision to downside the budgetary allocation to the Legal Aid Scheme of Ghana, could create a “two-tier” system that which denies the poorest people access to justice, Mr Bernard Ahiafor, Member of Parliament (MP) for Akatsi South warned.
According to him, the Scheme which was established with the purpose to ensure equality of access to justice and treatment before the law by serving as a Public Defender for the poor in need of cost effective justice is been under resourced.
The government has downsized the budget allocation of the Legal Aid Scheme from GHS6.7 million in 2017 to GHS5.9 million in the 2018 budget, for salaries and operation of the Scheme which mandate is among of other things to seek equal justice for the less privilege in society.
The mandate of the Scheme is also to ensure the availability of qualified, diligent, and committed legal, paralegal, and alternative dispute resolution personnel to provide legal services to protect the interests and rights of the indigent vulnerable.
Due to high cost of accessing lawyer services, the idea of the scheme is to further help the nation to achieve a just and equitable society where Ghana’s socially and financially disadvantaged in need of legal services could be served nationwide.
This, Mr Ahiafor said, it was expected that, an important institution like Legal Aid could have been resourced with adequate funds and logistics to carry out its mandate, but under the circumstance where the budget is downsized, it could trigger negative impact on its purpose.
“Access to justice has to be as equal as possible. It is prevent a situation we have one quality of justice for the rich and one for the poor. If we are moving in that direction, it’s a risky society. It can mean that the quality of justice differs according to the size of your bank balance.”
“People who haven’t got money can’t afford to go to law. It will lead to a decreasing lack of respect for the law if it’s seen as being for people with money rather than people without money,” He stated.
The scheme, he averred currently accessible in only the regional capitals in the 10 regions of the country due lack of resources to rent building and also employ lawyers, adding that, the head office in Accra is operating in a poor conducive office at the Ghana Law Report premises.
He added that, the 275 Constituency needs office of the Legal Aid Scheme to help most of the constituent who either do have money to hire services of lawyers, or even access the legal aid system.
The MP expressed concern that, with all these challenges, it was not proper government reduce the budgetary location if it could not increase, stating, “if an important institution do not have funds to employ more lawyers, why disabled them from maintaining what they have?”
While calling on the government to resourced the scheme to discharge its mandate to the vulnerable in society, Mr Ahiafor also applauded the scheme for been able to solved over 5,700 cases through the Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) mechanism.
He said, it worth commending the scheme with only 21 lawyers across the country to have chucked such success in ensuring that cases are resolved amicably without traveling far to courts, nothing that, “with much resources I believed the scheme could do more good work for the country.”
The Legal aid which ensures the provision of advice and representation in court to those who cannot afford to hire a lawyer, operate and supervised under the Attorney General and Ministry of Justice.
Source: therepublicnewsonline.com/Felix Engsalige Nyaaba