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AD347: Ghanaians cite high cost, bias, and long delays as barriers to using formal justice system

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Key findings
  • More than three-fourths of Ghanaians say the president – and ordinary citizens – must obey the courts and laws
  • More than eight in 10 Ghanaians (85%) say at least “some” judges and magistrates are corrupt, including 40% who say this about “most” or “all” of these court officials.
  • Only one in 20 Ghanaians (5%) say they had contact with the formal judicial system during the previous year. The most important reasons why Ghanaians think people do not use the formal judicial system are that it is too expensive (cited by 54% of respondents), that the system favours the rich and powerful (31%), and that legal proceedings take a long time before judgment is given (31%).
  • Among respondents who had contact with the judicial system during the previous year, about half (52%) rate the level of corruption in the judicial system as “high” or “very high.”
  • A majority of Ghanaians say that people are “always” or “often” treated unequally under the law (58%) and that officials who commit crimes “always” or “often” go unpunished (61%).

Ghana’s justice sector was adjudged Africa’s sixth-best in the 2019 Rule of Law Index, dropping from first position in 2018 (World Justice Project, 2019). The country is a signatory to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the Maputo Protocol, both of which oblige the state to ensure that citizens have access to the delivery of justice. Article 14 of Ghana’s Constitution also safeguards citizens’ access to justice.

Nonetheless, the judicial sector is burdened with challenges that threaten the efficient delivery of justice. Conditions necessary to ensure efficient and equal access to judicial systems, such as affordability, proximity, comprehensibility, and responsiveness, are not in place for a number of Ghanaians (African Union, 2019). Access to legal assistance is a problem, even for the state: The Attorney General’s Department has very few lawyers – far below the minimum number required to function effectively (Brakopowers, 2018). In addition, the Legal Aid Commission, which has the mandate of rendering free legal services to citizens, operates mainly in the major cities, inhibiting access by the poor and vulnerable (Donkor, 2019). Worse, journalists’ investigative reports on alleged corruption have tainted the judiciary’s reputation (Ghanaweb, 2020).

The government and the judiciary have made efforts to address issues of unequal access to justice delivery, perceived corruption, and dwindling trust in the justice sector. These include the Justice for All Programme, which seeks to reduce the large number of remand prisoners by organizing court sittings in the prisons to hear cases (Judicial Digest, 2017); the “paperless court” initiative to improve case management, reduce processing time, and enable effective monitoring of cases; and the Anticorruption Action Plan for the judicial sector aimed at promoting integrity, transparency, accountability, and responsiveness to corruption complaints (Judicial Digest, 2018).

But findings from a recent Afrobarometer survey suggest that these efforts still have a long way to go. While most Ghanaians endorse the legitimacy of the courts, they also see court officials as corrupt and untrustworthy. More than half say high costs prevent citizens from using the formal justice system, while others cite a bias in favour of the rich and powerful and long delays as barriers.

Among those who had contact with the justice system during the previous year, many rate the system as high on corruption and low on fairness and transparency.

For the press release, click here. For the full report, click “Download now” below.

Lionel Osse Essima

Lionel is the assistant project manager for Anglophone West Africa and North Africa.

Gildfred Boateng Asiamah

Gildfred Boateng Asiamah previously served as a research analyst at the Ghana Center for Democratic Development (CDD-Ghana).