Seven persons on remand at the Nsawam Medium Security Prison were yesterday set free under the “Justice For All Programme” (JFAP), an initiative meant to decongest the country’s prisons.
One of those set free spent 11 years on remand for alleged robbery with the trial yet to commence at the law court.
The young man, after being set free, broke into tears and thanked the court that was constituted to hear his case and the lawyers who defended him on pro-bono basis.
Forty-one people on remand were also granted bail; four were refused bail while five were referred to health facilities.
Speaking after witnessing some of the remand prisoners being set free and the living conditions of the prisoners, the Chief Justice (CJ), Mrs Justice Georgina Theodora Wood, pledged to dedicate herself to fight for the rights of prisoners.
She promised to fully take up such a role when she retires from active service on June 8, 2017.
“Wherever I find myself after retirement, I will use my legitimate powers to advocate an improvement in prisoner right,’’ she said.
She, however, explained that such a role did not mean that she would meddle in the affairs of the court, but rather “bring useful ideas that would lead to an improvement in the system.’’
The CJ described the situation of prisoners in the country as unfortunate, adding that their rights must be respected and protected.
“If you were to listen to their stories, you will have empathy for them because it is for various reasons that people find themselves in conflict with the law.
“That notwithstanding, it is the State’s duty to ensure that their rights, whether on remand or as convicts, are protected and defended. It is unfortunate that as a country we had to depend on donor support to bring some relief to them,’’ she said.
The Acting Director-General of the Ghana Prisons Service, Mr Patrick Darko Missah, who also spoke at the event, said the JFAP had helped reduce the number of inmates at the prisons.
According to him, 30.7 per cent of the country’s total prison population of 13,335 in 2007 were remand prisoners but as of 2016, the JFAP had helped to reduce the remand population to 18.2 per cent of the total prison population.
He, however, mentioned the inability of some of the remand prisoners to meet their bail conditions and the refusal of some police investigators to execute the bail as some of the challenges facing the programme.
The Director of Public Prosecutions, Mrs Yvonne Atakora Obuobisa, said the JFAP was not supposed to be a permanent programme.
“If the system is working efficiently, then we should not be having so many prisoners on remand,’’ she said.
Also present at the event was the Danish Ambassador to Ghana, Ms Tove Degnbol.
The JFAP was established in 2007 to help reduce overcrowding in the country’s system and also provide justice for remand prisoners whose trial had stalled or were yet to commence even though they had spent years in custody.
It is being done under the joint auspices of the Judicial Service, the Attorney-General’s Department, the Ghana Prisons and Police Services and civil society organisations.
This year’s event is being funded by the Danish International Development Agency (DANIDA).
The programme involves the setting up of special courts at the prisons where the cases of prisoners whose cases meet the criteria of the programme are reviewed.
At yesterday’s event at the Nsawam Prison, three specialised High Courts, presided over by Mr Justice C.J Honyenuga, a Justice of the Court of Appeal; Mr Justice Constance Hometowu and Justice Alhaji Abdulai Iddrissu, two Justices of the High Court, heard the cases of 58 remand prisoners.
The remand prisoners were represented by three lawyers namely Nii Bi Ayibonte, Mr Francis Xavier Sosu and Mr Isaac Aidoo, who all provided their legal services on pro-bono basis.