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Ghana News

New Public Defenders’ Division Launched to Provide Free Legal Services to the Less Privileged in Ghana

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The Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Godfred Yeboah Dame, has launched the Public Defenders’ Division (PDD) of the Legal Aid Commission (LAC) in Ghana. The division provides free legal services to the less privileged and poor who are accused of criminal offenses. This initiative is in line with Articles 14, 17, and 19 of the 1992 Constitution, which aim to protect personal liberties, promote equality and freedom, and make fair trial a vital part of the justice system. The Legal Aid Commission Act, 2018 (Act 977) reinvigorated the commission, creating three divisions, namely the PDD, Citizens Advisory (CAD), and Alternative Dispute Divisions (ADD).

The PDD will provide legal services to accused persons who cannot afford a lawyer. Unlike the old legal aid regime, Act 977 mandates a public defender, a lawyer employed by the state to provide legal services to an accused person immediately after their arrest, represent the accused during trial, and also deal with any appeal process when necessary. The division will increase access to justice and reduce inequalities in society. The US government’s Department of Justice’s Office of Overseas Prosecutorial Development, Assistance and Training (OPDAT) provided technical assistance to the PDD and had already provided 54 laptops to the commission.

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Access to justice is a fundamental human right, and it should not be the preserve of only the rich. Justice Nene Amegatcher, a Justice of the Supreme Court and Board Chairman of LAC, noted that the creation of the PDD was important because hitherto free legal services were only provided to the less privileged on an ad hoc basis. This situation made it difficult for many people to benefit from its services, and not every poor person who was charged with a crime and wanted to be represented by a lawyer got such an opportunity. Ms. Rachel Rossi, the Director of the US Department of Justice’s Access to Justice Office (AJT), lauded the commission for the tremendous work it was doing to help the vulnerable in society.

For the most part, the launch of the PDD will reduce the justice gap and provide legal services to the less privileged in Ghana. It will promote equality, protect personal liberties, and make fair trial a vital part of the justice system. The commission faced enormous challenges, especially inadequate infrastructure, for which the Ministry of Justice provided it with 11 new vehicles and other office equipment. Efforts are being made to provide it with new office accommodation. The general public can contribute to the Legal Aid Fund launched by President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo to support the work of the commission.

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