When Naa Adorkor’s 15 year-old daughter was raped by a 45 year-old neighbour she vowed no expense would be spared in prosecuting the man. Four years later she has spent all her money and still received no verdict from Ghana’s courts.
“I am fed up and frustrated. Sometimes I regret seeking justice in the court,” she said after the case was adjourned for the umpteenth time last week.
Adorkor, a 50 year-old mother of five makes US$40 a day selling roasted fish in the James Town district of Accra. She is now ready to accept the US$200 out-of-court settlement her daughter’s rapist is offering.
“I have spent all the money I have on this case,” she shrugged. “I should have simply accepted the offer of money [in the first place] and dropped the case.”
There are no exact figures but Ghana’s judicial service estimates there are “several thousands” of unheard cases like this one across the country.
Some people have been waiting for justice for five years or longer.
With the court system clogged, Ghanaians have taken the law into their own hands. According to statistics from the police, in 2007 more than a thousand incidents were recorded as “mob justice” when suspected criminals were attacked and murdered by civilians.
“We are worried; the snail’s pace of justice is now encouraging mob justice and vigilante style justice. A quicker and better solution must be found,” said Edward Amuzu, the head of legal advocacy group, Legal Resources Centre.
Deputy Judicial Secretary, Abdullai Iddrisu said Ghana’s chief justice has launched a process to construct more courts, increase the number of judges and magistrates working in the system, and to get some civil cases out of the courtroom and into mediations and other dispute resolution programmes.
So far however the only visible reform is a dictate that judges and magistrates must now hear cases over the weekend. The policy, introduced by Ghana’s Chief Justice, makes it compulsory for judges and magistrates to sit on Saturdays to hear selected cases of domestic violence and rape as well as cases relating to loss of revenue to the state.
The policy is starting with only 200 unheard cases. Iddrisu says the selected cases “are crucial to the public and will need immediate action” and that is why they are getting priority treatment under the policy.
Amuzu from the Legal Resources Centre said the weekend court policy will not make enough of a difference. “What is needed is a total restructuring of the legal system,” he said.
Existing courts need to be streamlined, more courts are needed, time management systems must be implemented, and cases distributed more evenly among judges, he said.