The Law and Its Long Arm

I’ve begun my second week in Agbogbloshie, working with human rights law at a legal advice centre and as a company secretary for an international social enterprise. When I first started working I felt like I got dropped off a passenger jet and hit the ground running by necessity. Since then I’ve been getting used to the hustle and bustle of Accra and feel more comfortable making my way around. Cold water showers in the morning are fine and I recognize the hand signs for the bus to Kaneshi, where the moped taxi drivers seem to remember me as I never pay more than 3GHC for the rest of the way to Agbogbloshie police station. Previously I’d wait by the road for someone from FLAP to pick me up, spending the time learning twi from Jonathan,  a lalante (local term for someone from Accra), and constantly rejecting his plea for me to marry his sister. (Tempting as it was, considering he was the brother of a local chief). Now I walk swiftly through the tangle of roads and explain quickly who I am and where I work to the people who stop me. One guy even followed me all the way to work just to check I was telling the truth. Perhaps there’s a lurking fear of the government preparing to evict them. Before I describe this week so far, I will post something short about our visit to the High Court of Adjudication last Friday. We arrived at about 11am and walked straight into the court room (the doors were wide open, bringing the meaning of open justice to a whole new level) where an application for a case to be moved to the Commercial Court was being heard. The argument by the applicant was that the meaning of the words in a statute impliedly granted exclusive jurisdiction to the Commercial Court for all commercial matters. ”Bold but unrealistic”, the judge replied. The respondent’s counter-argument was almost too harsh: – ”My Lord, monetary relief should be granted for bringing this case to the court in the first place.  It is a principle and maxim of Ghanaian law that exclusive jurisdiction can only be granted in mandatory terms. This application is fundamentally flawed and incurably incompetent.” Ouch. Afterwards, I took the opportunity to have a quick interview with the respondent commercial barrister about pro bono in Ghana. He said it wasn’t mandatory, but he typically did it for family and friends. His opinion was that it should be mandatory, but that the current legal aid system was in shambles and needed to be strengthened and properly manned. It should be made attractive to lawyers and incentivized by peer recognition or awards. Wigs, robes and jargon. The legacy of the common law is undeniably present.Bild The two QMPBS volunteers,  the commercial barrister and me. Bild From the street into the court room. Last week, there were 3 cases involving battery, an illegal abortion and a hit and run. The first one is dropped after the claimant was taken to another area by her mother and the second one we will attempt to resolve by mediation tomorrow. Last week we went to the police in order to help speed up the process of a man seeking compensation for the severe injuries he had suffered as a result of the offender’s recklessness. The driver and his bailor were called to appear before the Old Fadama police chief on the 17th of June, but, lo and behold, they didn’t show up. Seeking concrete action, we decided to pay a visit to the district police commander. We arrived at the police station at 2pm, situated in a vast, dusty red parking lot surrounded by residential buildings and offices,  in an area coincidentally called Arena. After a short wait in which I managed to make some last-minute editions to the case details I had prepared, we were shown into a large office with three big couches. We sat down and let Fred explain the claim and introduce us. After he had finished, I spoke up, introduced myself and explain some further details about the case that I felt were important to compel action and an arrest. At the end of the meeting, the commander had requested the full case details from the other police station and told us to return on the Thursday for a follow-up. Hopefully, the long arm of the law can bring the 7 months of suffering for the man who can no longer afford his hospital bills to an end. After this, we decided to take Lucy, the girl who claimed she had been abused and thrown out of her home, to see her mother. We needed to get the other side of the story before getting the authorities involved. The place was nearby the police station, in an area marginally nicer than Old Fadama. We followed Lucy through some narrow streets until we found a larger open area with about 3 women, 2 men and 4 children. One of the women sitting down was Lucy’s mother, who first seemed angered by our visit but who at the end of our visit agreed to a mediation session between her and her daughter. While both are claiming different things, the main objective for the mediation is for Lucy to receive shelter and financial support in a safe environment. For this to happen, we need to find common ground and compromise, which after everything the parties have gone through won’t be an easy task. If we do succeed, Frederick will continue to monitor Lucy’s situation for 3 months and speak to her to find out whether we have achieved what we set out at the beginning. Today was spent writing together an easy-to-use guide on how to make a will for the workers at FLAP and holding a presentation on contract law, in order for the FLAP workers to be more adept with the law when resolving disputes over agreements. From the discussion we had I gathered the following: • Almost all agreements in Ghana are oral or communicated by action • Registration of property the transfer of deeds is not widely present in Ghana, and completely absent in Agbogbloshie • Much of the UK law applies • There is customary law, established in the culture of different tribes and communities, which supplements the statutes and case law So what service can FLAP provide? Well, for one it could assist with drawing up contracts for services and goods. If anything then happens between the parties, FLAP can act as an arbitrator between the parties, freeing them from potential legal costs and speeding up the process of resolving the issue. Second, in terms of the registration of property, this may be difficult as the inhabitants are technically squatters. However, by crystallizing their adverse possession in deeds this may help convince the government to recognize their legitimacy. Lastly, although the UK law often applies, there have certainly been legal developments within Ghana. But these are difficult to follow without proper resources. I will therefore try to direct some of the funding for FLAP towards buying a small law library that can be used for easy referral in case of any uncertainty, or perhaps a subscription to an online law library. BildBild Left and Right picture: Nana and Vidette writing down fruits of the discussion on the whiteboard and presenting contract law to the FLAP workers. After paying another visit to the quality control manager of Pepsi, Francis, on the Tuesday, I was told that the CEO had seemed as enthusiastic as Francis when told about the project. Over the next year, Pepsi aims to internalize its plastic bottle production and expand into plastic bottles for carbonated drinks as well as water, significantly increasing the use of plastics. Furthermore, Francis pointed out that Pepsi was implementing a very thorough waste management system which made sure that the liquid waste was free from anything that could harm the environment when dumped in the lagoon. He showed me his lab equipment and pointed to a new machine he said would test for different polluters. In addition to this, he said that they were definitely interested in pursuing my idea of a community clean up and plastic recycling program – after the plastic production was in placed. Thinking this promise was too vague and long-term, I asked to see the CEO to hand him the full weight of my reasons and incentives for Pepsi to act now and not in a year. I am carefully optimistic – hopefully I can return with some good news. The meeting is scheduled for tomorrow morning. Better get to bed.

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