Justice Sophia Akuffo, the Chief Justice, on Tuesday stated that plans were underway to merge all lower courts in one big compound so that access to justice would be in a broader space and made easy.
She said prototype drawings were being developed for the lower courts as expandable plans for them and this would also prevent people from travelling long distances to access justice.
Addressing participants at the 11th annual Chief Justice’s forum, in Accra, on the theme; “quality justice delivery at the district level,” she said they have had high level deliberations with major stakeholders to map out plans of improving justice delivery at the lower level.
She said most district courts across the country which were supposed to be for the administration of justice were in deplorable states, saying where quality justice failed, public perception changes, and when that happened the image of the judiciary was affected.
Justice Akuffo, noted that there was the need to ensure that, the responsibility of the local authority in the light of criminal development to do what was expected of them to ensure ready access to the administration of justice, was done.
She said every assembly must live up to expectation in providing properly built and furnished courts rooms and accommodation for judges and magistrates, saying the building of courts was the responsibility of the Metropolitan, Municipal and District Assemblies (MMDA’s).
“Courts would not be commissioned without accommodation for judges, because it is unhealthy for judges and magistrates to travel long distances because they are compelled to live outside their jurisdiction to administer justice,” she said.
She reiterated the fact that by the end of the year court buildings that were in deplorable states would be closed in the interest, safety and security of judges and magistrates, as well as people who went about their normal duties over there.
She expressed disappointment at the absence of the Minister of Local Government and Rural Development or a representative at the forum, saying it showed apparent disregard for anything that had to do with the judiciary that had become the norm.
The Chief Justice called on civic spirited individuals, institutions and the business community to consider supporting the judiciary and the judicial service at the local level.
Justice Stephen A. Brobbey, a retired Justice of the Supreme Court said the lower courts did not merely form part of the judiciary, but were considered as the face of the law or judiciary to facilitate access to other courts.
He said the lower courts formed the foundation of the judicial system, where people saw and interact more frequently and as such must be sustained to ensure trust in the justice delivery system.
Justice Brobbey noted that if work at the lower courts were done well, work in the higher courts would be facilitated, number of appeal cases would be reduced, and the superior courts would be stronger and better in its functions.
“The role of the lower courts underscores their significance, and if their value is realized, it become imperative that efforts are made to improve the quality of justice disposed there,” he said.
He said some measures to provide quality justice delivery at the lower level included mode of recruitment and operation, measures to minimize delays, access to law reports and statutes, training for magistrates and judges on constant changes in the law among others.
Justice Brobbey urged the assemblies to support the courts in order to make justice delivery much easier, saying service to the court was self-service, because apart from the fact that it was their responsibility, they may also need the courts to rule on their cases.
Justice Alex B. Poku-Acheampong, Judicial Secretary, said the theme for the event was motivated by a tour of the courts throughout the country by the Chief Justice, which turned out to paint a negative image of the judiciary as poor conditions of court buildings and unavailability of quality accommodation for judges was noticed.
He said the forum was to discuss how to make the court rooms and bungalows for judges and magistrates fit for the purpose and to discuss how the MMDA’s can also help build proper court rooms.
Participants for the forum included major stakeholders from the district level, the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development, the Attorney General’s Office, Local Government Services, Metropolitan, Municipal and District Chief Executives, Traditional Authorities, members of the judicial service, non-governmental organisations and development partners.