A private legal practitioner, Mr Clarke Noyoru, has called on his fellow lawyers to make legal services available and affordable to children who found themselves in conflict with the law.
According to him, the high cost of legal services in the country was one of the reasons why some children who are in conflict with the law end up in adult prisons instead of juvenile facilities.
“We cannot run a system where we want to protect the rights of children when services are expensive,” Mr Noyoru said at a day’s training programme for paralegals organised by the Legal Resources Centre on Friday.
The training was on the theme “Justice for Children: Bridging The Gap Between Legislation and Practice” and was aimed at increasing the capacity of paralegals and other stakeholders in promoting and protecting the rights of children.
According to Mr Noyoru, the weak child protection system in the country was also to blame for the abuse meted out to children who found themselves in conflict with the law.
He therefore urged the trainees to take advantage of the Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) mechanism in dealing with matters relating to children.
“More often than not, children who are in conflict with the law have parents who cannot afford legal services but as a child there are specialised courts for them; the juvenile court. And that is why as paralegals you need to know that even if the matter has to go to court, it shouldn’t be a traditional court and even if it must be in a traditional court, it shouldn’t be in an open court,” he said.
“There are scale of fees that we are allowed to charge but you cannot charge below. So, the point is that legal services are so expensive and if you want to run pro bono services for children who cannot afford, then we cannot rely on the kind of services that ordinary lawyers are providing. So, one of the guiding principles in the work that you are doing is that legal services should be available and accessible to persons who cannot afford,” he added.
According to Mr Noyoru, the failure on the part of the legal system to protect the right of children was also a contributing factor to child delinquency in the society.
“Ghana’s prisons do not correct. They punish and as a result, minor offenders come out as hardened criminals and that is why we must correct the child in a child friendly manner,” he said.
He also encouraged the trainees to serve as “next friends” for such children and fight on their behalf.
“You have to fight for the interest of the child because a child is weak and vulnerable and cannot fight the system. The child cannot face the criminal justice system,” he said.