Fordham Law

Leitner Center Access to Justice Project Continues its Success

October 21, 2011

The Leitner Center's Access to Justice Project, now in its third year, continues to assist prisoners remanded in custody pending trial in Ghanaian prisons. The project, conducted in partnership with the African Center for Development Law & Policy, Accra, Ghana (ADCLP), teams Fordham Law students with Ghanaian law students to advocate on behalf of remand prisoners in a different prison each year. The students, working in close cooperation with the Judicial Service of Ghana, the Ghana Prison Service, and the Attorney General’s Department, have interviewed nearly 500 prisoners to date, over 200 of whom have been acquitted or granted bail.

In the past academic year, the project focused on the Sekondi-Takoradi Central Prison. Sekondi-Takoradi is the capital of the Western Region of Ghana and the country's fourth largest city. Fordham Law students Anne Kelsey '12, Erin Miles '11, Ayinde Sawyer '11 and Diana Schaffner '12 traveled to Ghana and partnered with four Ghanaian law students, Claudia Agyemang-Yeboah, Emmanuel Amoah, Amos Antwi, and Chris Akwetey Gabor, from the Faculty of Law of the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) in Kumasi to carry out the project. The students interviewed prisoners, prepared their files for court hearings, and assisted the team of pro bono attorneys from ACDLP who represent the prisoners in specially convened courts sitting inside the prisons.
Over the past summer, the Chief Justice of Ghana, Her Ladyship Mrs. Georgina Theodora Wood, authorized the sitting of four courts in the Sekondi Central Prison: two high courts and two circuit courts. Isidore Tufuor, a Ghanaian graduate of Fordham Law's LL.M. program in International Law and Justice, along with Ernest Abotsi, Executive Director of the ACDLP, defended the inmates. The courts heard arguments on behalf of 84 prisoners. Twenty-five of those were granted bail, either conditionally or unconditionally. Three were discharged. Three were acquitted and discharged. Judges have reviewed the preliminary evidence of the remaining cases and, for most, have set dates for a full trial.

"Prolonged detention of remand prisoners is an endemic problem in Ghana and several African countries," said Clinical Associate Professor Paolo Galizzi, who supervises the Access to Justice Project. "I am very grateful for the cooperation of the Ghanaian stakeholders and for all the support we've received from the Leitner Center and Fordham Law School. I am also very proud of the work the students did and of Fordham’s clinical program, which makes these experiences possible. While I am delighted these 84 prisoners are receiving the justice they deserve, much work remains to be done and we hope to help many more prisoners in the future.”

The Leitner Center and ACDLP are working to secure funding to expand the project nationwide.