From the Judicial Reforms and Projects Directorate
The Ghanaian legal system is based on a formal concept of justice. To seek justice one must bring their dispute to trained legal professionals (lawyers) who will argue their case before Justices of the Court (Judges). Requiring such formalities comes at a financial and temporal cost.
Current best practices in judicial administration has seen the synchronisation of court procedures and processes having regard to the law in ensuring that cases are efficiently disposed offat the Courts. The Judicial Service in this vein and with support from the Land Administration Project has sought to introduce initiatives aimed at making its processes more effective and coordinated.
1. COURT CONNECTED ALTERNATIVE DISPUTE RESOLUTION (CCADR) AT THE LAND COURTS
Court Connected Alternative Dispute Resolution (CCADR) Mechanism has been identified as the most cost effective way of settling disputes among parties. The reduction in formality makes justice speedier and takes away the need for lengthy legal processes. The second Ghana Land Administration Project has provided the Judicial Service an opportunity to effectively adjudicate land cases filed at the Land Courts through the Court Connected Alternative Dispute Resolution (CCADR).
For the CCADR programme at the Land Courts, parties have the option of choosing a certified mediator to assist them in arriving at a settlement, which is then entered in the books of the Court as consent judgment.
The CCADR requires that, parties to a land case, file their processes and receive referral from a Judge for the case to be mediated at an Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) session. Agreements reached at the mediation sessions are put before the Judge as consent judgment. However, an unsuccessful mediation is relisted at the court and the case may be tried through the formal court process
Resolution of disputes by mediation seldom leaves the parties with hard feelings. This is simply because the process is informal, open and the parties are actively involved in deciding the outcome of solutions for the dispute. This is inexpensive and a speedy way of disposing cases.
For the successful implementation of the CCADR programme at the Land Court, the Second Ghana Land Administration Project has assisted the Judicial Service to train Judges, Mediators and the Bar (Lawyers) to promote this reform agenda.
2. INTRODUCTION OF WRITTEN WITNESS STATEMENT AT THE COURTS
The Judicial Service seeks to build a strong and effective judiciary, capable of resolving disputes in a timely and efficient manner. In this vein, the Service has introduced the Written Witness Statement in Court Practices.
The Written Witness Statement is “a statement in a written form containing the evidence which a witness before a court would have led by viva voce, signed by him and made available to all parties in the case”.
The rational for this innovation is that time that is spent by the witness in giving detailed oral testimony would have been saved, thereby reducing to a considerable level, the delay in the trial system. This rule of court is therefore aimed at reducing the turnaround time of cases filed at the Courts.
Under Component 2 of the second Ghana Land Administration Project, the Judicial Service was supported to conduct two stakeholder meetings to identify the modus for incorporating this procedure, and the validation of the draft rules prepared by the Rules of Court Committee of the Judicial Council.
In May 2014, the US Embassy provided funding to augment what has been provided under LAP-2, for a team of 4 Judges, 1 Administrator and 5 Lawyers to understudy the implementation of the Written Witness Statement as pertains in the USA. This study was to provide experiential knowledge and benchmark for Ghana.
The High Court (Civil Procedure) (Amendment) Rules, 2014 (CI 87) which was laid in Parliament on Thursday, 18th December 2014 was allowed to come into force on Wednesday, 4th March 2015. The Courts are currently applying these new rules in the adjudication of cases.
3.0EXPANSION OF THE LAND COURTS TO OTHER REGIONS
Access to justice comprises both physical access to the courts and access to information and services. Physical access is deemed important to the Judicial Service since justice must be dispensed from a courthouse.
Further, automation even if provided must be installed in courts that are able to support equipment such as those with electricity, security and other IT enabling infrastructure. Hence, the acquisition of premises is deemed a critical factor in the pursuit of reforms within the Judiciary.
The Judicial Service under the Second GhanaLand Administration Project is expanding the specialized Land Courts to three other regions: Western Region (Sekondi), Ashanti Region (Kumasi) and the Northern Region (Tamale). This intervention is to ensure that land cases which comprise about 80% of all civil cases filed at the courts, receive urgent adjudication.
The Service, with the support of LAP-2 procured a Consultant who conducted a refurbishment needs assessment of the selected Courts and supervised the refurbishment which commenced on the three selected sites on 9th March 2015.
The refurbished Courts have been handed over to the Judicial Service and would commence sitting in the 2015/2016 Legal Year.