Regional News of 2013-12-13

Judicial reforms will enhance litigation transparency - Chief Justice

As the Judiciary puts up modalities to introduce a Written Witness Statement, as part of on-going reforms to help speed-up the trial of cases before the court, Chief Justice Georgina Wood has noted that the new system will abolish ambush trials and make way for more transparency in civil litigation.
"The validation of the draft written witness rules with its subsequent adoption as part of the rules of court will pave the way for more transparency, the abolition of ambush trials and make way for more transparency in civil litigation for parties to "place their cards face up on the table", the Chief Justice asserted.
Chief Justice Georgina Wood made the comment Thursday at this year's Chief Justice's Forum, where lawyers and justices from across the country were examining the strengths and weaknesses a proposal for witnesses to give a written statement before trial begins.
The forum was on the theme: “Expeditious Justice Delivery: The Role of Written Witness Statement.”
One of the challenges facing Ghana’s legal system is the long delay in the justice delivery system.
In the light of concerns about such delays, the Chief Justice appealed to lawyers to consider proposals to introduce a Written Witness Statement, as part of on-going reforms to help speed up the trial of cases, adding that the proposal will help eliminate surprises during a trial.
She noted, "in April 2012, a group of distinguished members of the Bench, Bar, Faculty and other stakeholders met at this same venue to deliberate on the feasibility of incorporating written statement and Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) into the trial process. The meeting was a prelude to what we have all gathered here today to discuss and validate; namely to discuss the draft of a written statement rules put together by the rules or court committee. It is only proper to solicit your views before submitting it to Parliament for passage into law".
Additionally, Supreme Court judge, Justice Jones Dotse, cautioned against the possibility of granting witnesses the opportunity to introduce elements that may not be contained in their original written statements.
"This may be subject to abuse recipe for further delays. at this stage i am of the view that judges and magistrates should be very circumspect. If at the time the statement was written the matter had not yet arisen, that is a different matter but if at the time you wrote your written statement the evidence was available and after due diligence could have been included in the statement, I think you should not be granted time to amplify your written statement. It will defeat the whole purpose", Justice Dotse asserted
Meanwhile, some lawyers who took part in the stakeholders’ forum welcome the idea of a witness written statement being introduced as part of the court proceedings.
Speaking to Joy News, the Spokesperson of the Ghana Bar Association (GBA), Tony Forson welcomed the proposal and described it as "a good proposal", despite challenges that is associated with every innovation.
The system, he noted cuts out time that is used in asking the witness questions that lead to delays in the trial, indicating it is already being practiced in the UK, Nigeria, Malaysia and many other countries.
Mr. Forson therefore disagrees that the system will be restrictive, noting that it is the lawyers duty to put the case of his client before the court, a process, which has its own problems
To him, it is the responsibility of the lawyer to help the court to arrive at justice and not to win his case and that the restrictive nature of the process is a little bit over-shadowed by the positive side.
He also was of the view that there will be the need to sanction lawyers, who are negligent in their duties.