The Executive Director of Crime Check Foundation (CCF), Ibrahim Oppong Kwarteng has wooed student lawyers to consider giving free legal services to poor and voiceless persons when they become lawyers.
He said though some poor persons may be innocent, the tendency of them landing in prison is high because of their inability to get a representation in court to defend them.
Mr. Kwarteng was speaking at the induction of some Fellows of Public interest Law and advocacy into the Noble Law Group in Accra.
He bemoaned the abuse of the rights of poor, voiceless, and unlettered citizens and other injustices usually perpetrated by some agents in the criminal justice system.
The Human Rights advocate said the situation mocks the country’s pride as a beacon of democracy in Africa and a champion of human rights.
Mr. Kwarteng argued that the country’s retarded development would have seen an improvement if such poor individuals who usually engage in petty offences are made to undertake community services rather than being thrown into prison.
This he said is the result of the absence of a Non-Custodial Sentencing Law, which has been left on the shelves of Parliament for years.
Mr. Kwarteng, therefore, urged the Fellows to channel their energies into fighting for the defenseless poor persons as there are only as few as thirty-five lawyers who provide legal aid across the country.
“Lack of adequate lawyers to represent accused persons in court makes mockery of our designation as a champion of human rights when the Legal Aid Commission has only thirty-five (35) lawyers across the country. Many accused persons find themselves in prison because they could not talk in court being their first time and had to shiver throughout the process. Most of them do not know the difference between innocent and guilty. They could neither get the services of lawyers,” he said.
“It is therefore not surprising that our prisons are full of poor petty offenders and others who may not have been there if they had the services of lawyers. Whiles we continue the advocacy for the Legal Aid Commission to be resourced, I would want to appeal to you to volunteer free services to our brothers and sisters who are hurriedly thrown into prison because they did not get legal assistance. The pain and psychological trauma such inmates, some of whom may have been convicted wrongly, go through, roll back the clock of development because some of them come back more hardened out of pain to unleash terror on us,” he added.
Mr. Kwarteng called on all and sundry to help push for improved prisons conditions to make them purely correctional institutions.
The programme was themed, “LAW AND DEVELOPMENT: Advocacy as a catalyst for development.”
By: Rudolph Nandi