Judge, High Court, Ghana
Before the COVID-19 pandemic arrived in Ghana, I was already yearning for the annual legal vacation. The new legal year had just begun and there were judgments to be delivered, trials to be completed, and new ones to be conducted, not to talk of the endless stream of applications being filed each week. It was going to be business as usual, until out of the blue, our lives were completely disrupted by the realization that this virus was closer to home than imagined.
The Chief Justice’s response to the COVID 19 pandemic was to direct trial judges to enforce strict case management techniques in the court room alongside social distancing as a means of preventing the spread of COVID-19. These included; allowing only parties whose cases were scheduled for hearing into the court room to avoid large gatherings; adjourning cases to specific times on given dates to limit the number of people allowed into the court room at a time; exercising great restraint in remanding accused persons in order to avoid overcrowding in police cells and prisons; and, dealing with only urgent matters. What constituted “urgent matters” was a matter for interpretation by each judge until this discretion was taken out of the hands of judges when the nation entered into the partial lockdown phase.
In Ghana, the lockdown was not nationwide. It was enforced in the Greater Accra and Greater Ashanti Regions, the most populous regions in Ghana. During that three-week period, most of the courts in the affected regions were closed leaving just a handful to handle mainly cases involving breaches of the lockdown regulations. That such cases were recorded might be an indication that the seriousness of the pandemic was lost on some.
However, the importance of capacity building to hold remote court hearings was not lost on the legal fraternity at all. Indeed, before the COVID 19 pandemic, the catch phrase was: “it is Digi-time” I first heard this phrase from Ghana’s Communication Minister when she delivered a speech during the launch of the E-Justice system and situated it within the wider framework of Ghana’s E-transform Project.
The E-Justice platform, which has been operationalized in the Law Court Complex in Accra and is soon to be rolled out in other courts nationwide, has introduced an electronic case filing system which dispenses with the physical filing of court processes. Other novelties are the E-docket, a digital copy of the physical docket which contains all processes filed in a matter and can be accessed remotely from the comfort of one’s home, E- Caus