There were tears of joy at the Ho Central Prisons when two remand prisoners from the prison were freed unconditionally under the Justice For All Programme (JFAP), ABC News can report.
Out of the 27 applications brought before a special in-prison court sitting set up by the JFAP and monitored by the Chief Justice, Justice Sophia Akuffo, 14 were granted bail, while two were convicted but bonded.
A total of eight cases out of the number had their applications refused, with one struck out in two sessions presided over by Justice C.J Honyenuga, Supervisor of the JFAP and Prison High Courts and Justice Eric Baah, Supervising Ho High Court Judge.
The proceedings were observed by about 20 ambassadors and diplomats from across the world, including; the United Nation’s Resident Coordinator in Ghana.
Announcing measures undertaken by the Judicial Service to decongest the country’s prisons, the Chief Justice said the the Justice For All Programme will be decentralised beginning January 2020.
She said with the decentralisation, it would become the responsibility of Regional Supervising High Court Judges that the regions had a JFAP.
“At least every region must have a Justice For All Programme. You go to the prison and do the cleaning work so that increasingly we will reduce or completely do away with people who are being remanded for too long whiles we waiting for other procedural laws that would enable different ways of managing criminal cases”, the Chief Justice stated.
She said full-time judges would be assigned to prisons that had courts attached, to handle cases only regarding prison inmates, adding that the case tracking system, which would come online by March 2020, would help them keep track of remand inmates.
Justice Akuffo said witness statements were built into the criminal procedure system to help eliminate what she called “ambush prosecutions”, by making accused persons aware of the claims of prosecutors.
She said both the Bar and the Judiciary had keen interest in the upgrading and reconfiguration of paralegal services to ease access to needful advice in criminal cases especially to people who could not easily access such services.
“These are some of the things in the pipeline. I will be retiring next month, but I will be retiring feeling happy because I have a lot of fires working,” Justice Akuffo said.
She called on stakeholders to partner the systems that would come along with the paralegal services, to help encourage professional lawyers to render services in the many courts scattered across the country.
For his part, Justice Clemence Honyenuga said the JFAP has contributed greatly to decongesting the country’s prisons, revealing that as at November 2019, the programme had reduced the remand population by 33 per cent.
The Ho Central Prisons, built for 150 inmates, now has a total population of 501, out of, which 377 are convicts, 89 on remand, 24 on trials with 10 lodgers and one on admission at a hospital.
JFAP was established in 2007 as a State led intervention aimed at addressing overcrowding in prison facilities by setting up special in-prison courts to adjudicate remand prisoner cases.