"Our courts are not courts" – Oliver cries about jailing suspects with no lawyer

#FixTheCountry convener, Oliver Barker-Vormawor, has bemoaned how many less privileged Ghanaians are allegedly being thrown into prisons by judges of the country’s courts without the suspects having legal representation.

Oliver Barker-Vormawor

According to him, he became more aware of the situation during his detention at the Ashaiman police station.

He recounted how an ex-fellow inmate told him that he was preparing to cross-examine a prosecution witness by himself without the help of a lawyer.

Writing on his Facebook page on Wednesday, May 25, the Harvard-trained lawyer revealed that he is currently representing one such poor suspect to prevent a miscarriage of justice against him.

Read Barker-Vormawor’s full post below:

"Sometimes it’s the little things! (One of my long ones)

I know we are all now fixated on Achimota, then Agyapa, then the increase in police violence. Even now the regime itself is pumping the air with terrorism fear mongering. I even know that the sense that 4th Republic is on its final legs, seems more and more current among many people. The writings are on the wall. I doubt many people will be surprised if we wake up and see Akufo-Addo in boxer shorts surrounded by military and police men.

But, trust me. The things that have been the biggest threat to our democracy and have undermined faith in this sham, isn’t just the stealing and the extra-judicial killings. It’s the little things.

You see A couple of days ago, I posted that I will be devoting myself to representing those I met at Ashaiman in court.

Well, one day I got a call from one of the guys from Nsawam. He said he was going to be sentenced the next day, so I should come. He said seeing me in court will give him moral support and make him calm. So I accepted.

That morning while I was driving to court, something inside me didn’t sit right. I was wearing a FixTheCountry t-shirt, and had a blazer over it. But I couldn’t come to terms with the fact that I couldn’t do anything about it. How as a lawyer I was just going to sit there and watch him get sentenced was something that seemed wrong.

So while driving, I called Samuel Alesu-Dordzi, who has now become my second brain. I said isn’t there something we can do at all to intervene. We debated a bit about it. I proposed that since his right to counsel starts from arrest till sentence, the trial isn’t over till sentence is pronounced. So even though the trial itself may be over, as soon as the judge pronounced guilty verdict, I will jump and introduce myself as having been retained as his lawyer. I will plead with the judge that I needed to make an argument in mitigation of sentence. Meaning, I wanted her to hear why she should impose a lower sentence. Samuel went to work and found me a brilliant provision in the law which allowed for you to bring a "motion to arrest judgment."

Which was just brilliant.

So armed with this I went to the court and waited.

I sat in court for nearly two hours before his case was called. What I witnessed made my soul cringe, but I will come back to that.

Anyway, when his case was called, guess what, the trial hadn’t even started yet. This matter has dragged on for 3 years. The guy without any knowledge of what is happening just thought for some reason, he was about to be sentenced that day.

I introduced myself in court. It took some convincing for the judge to even believe I was a lawyer; seeing how I was in sneakers, a t-shirt and a blazer.

Folks, over the past few weeks, I have been representing my friend in court. The trial has still not started because I have been challenging the charge sheet. And every time the police go and correct it there’s a new error. (But I won’t speak much about my own case because the GLC has been waiting to take my license for failure to observe road marking type of logic)

But hear this, I have sat in that court room and I have watched so many people without legal representation take the stand. I have watched them being asked to cross examine witnesses and every time I tell myself, our courts are not courts. Our criminal justice system is not a justice system. These people have no understanding of what is happening. We are herding people to jail because we are putting them in a situation that cannot possibly comprehend.

People do not understand our laws nor our court practices. This is not justice. This is leading people to slaughter.

Nobody, who goes through a criminal trial without a lawyer obtains a fair trial. Impossible!!!

In America, it is a fundamental value that you will never be put to trial without a lawyer. When the police arrest you, the first thing they tell you goes "You have a right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you."

I remember when I was in jail, one of the inmates was being taken to court; and he told me he will be cross-examining someone that day. He said it in a way that made me know intuitively that this guy doesn’t know even what that means. I remember telling Samson Anyenini this story once when he came to see me.

We cannot just fetch people who are so ignorant of the process we are putting them through, jail them and claim they have been given fair trial.

There are persons being tried for murder, who have no lawyers.

How is this system just?

If I say we do not have a democracy, it’s these little things. If we want a human and empathetic democracy, we cannot repeat these things when the 5th Republic comes.

[NB. By the way, one day my lawyers called me that someone had donated a wig and gown to be given to me, to help my pro-bono work for these clients.

I was so moved. I reckon she did not want it public that’s why she went to my lawyers and not me. But I do not care. Humanity has no tribe; party or sex. Joyce Bawah Mogtari thank you for your humanity. May it mean something; and may I be worthy of your gift]"


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