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General News Thu, 31 Jul 2008

Legal Aid Scheme to focus on the poor, vulnerable

Accra, July 31, GNA - The Legal Aid Scheme has begun drafting a new strategic plan that seeks to discriminate in the provision of its services between the poor and vulnerable in society on one hand and those who could afford legal services.

The Legal Aid Scheme in Ghana exists to provide efficient and effective legal services to the poor in society at a low cost to ensure maximum security for people.

The scheme, which currently provides free legal services to both the poor and rich in society by application and qualification of an individual, would in the new strategic plan focus on helping the poor and vulnerable in society free of charge while those who could afford legal services pay minimal fees.

Mr Kwame Osei-Prempeh, Deputy Minister of Justice and Deputy Attorney-General, said at a day's workshop on Thursday to discuss the development of the strategic plan that the Legal Aid Scheme was a very important organization especially when the country wanted to firmly establish rule of law.

"A large population of our society suffers injustice because they cannot go near the chambers of a lawyer to seek legal service," he said, and explained that the scheme was to guide the public to be able to access legal services.

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Expressing his gratitude to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) for its support to the scheme he called on other corporate bodies and well-to-do Ghanaians to help the Legal Aid Scheme. "A help to the Legal Aid Scheme is a help to the poor Ghanaian who, out of poverty and ignorance, is denied justice because he/she cannot afford legal services," Mr Osei-Prempeh said.

The UNDP which is supporting the development of the five-year strategic plan between 2006 and 2008 provided about 350,000 dollars to support the process.

Mr Eric Opoku, Head of the Governance Unit at the UNDP, said the support was part of his organization's programme to promote democracy and good governance in developing countries.

He said it was also within the capacity building programme of helping national institutions to be efficient and effective and added that the support to the Legal Aid Scheme was expected to help in streamlining the process of accessing the service, providing logistics and human resource development where staff of the scheme would be trained.

Mr Opoku said the scheme was also expected to increase peoples' awareness about their programme and how they could access help from them.

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Mr Alhassan Yahaya Sieni, Acting Director of the Legal Aid Scheme, further explained that the scheme existed mainly to help the poor and vulnerable in society hence the need to draw a strategic plan that would give more access to the poor.

"Some people are destitute and it will be unreasonable to ask them to pay legal fees. Others may be well prepared to ensure that the right things are done or insist on constitutional rights. It is only fair that they make little contributions in their quest to get effective legal services," he said.

He said helping the destitute in society would go a long way to ensure security for every citizen, adding "it is only when such people are ignored that the number of armed robbers and criminals increase. 31 July 08

Source: GNA