In fulfillment of a long-standing item on its agenda, FIDA Ghana in January 1985 established the first free Legal Aid Service in the country particularly for women and children who could not afford legal services of any kind because of their economic condition. These services have now been extended to men. Volunteer lawyers offered counseling, settlement, mediation and court representation.
The establishment of the Center was made possible by a grant of USD$5,000.00 from the Dan Church Aid in Copenhagen through the Christian Council of Ghana. With this first grant, the Accra office was opened. Our first Center was given to us by the late Ato Austin a then Secretary of State. With further assistance from the Human Rights and Democracy Fund of the United States Embassy, FIDA was able to extend its services to Kumasi and other regions and districts.
To complement the Legal Aid program, FIDA Ghana instituted a Legal Literacy program. This was also made possible through support received from the United States Embassy and the Women’s World Day of Prayer German Committee. Under the Legal Literacy programme, the publication of the ‘Women and the Law Series’, a valuable handbook on the rights of women in Ghana begun. These handbooks have formed the basis of FIDA – Ghana’s legal literacy and rights awareness programs aimed at educating the public at large, but women in particular. These programmes are held in all ten regions of the country and with an increase in funding can be extended to all districts.
FOCUS OF LEGAL AID PROGRAMME
The Legal Aid Programme is aimed primarily at the poor and indigent women and children in our society and therefore every applicant for legal aid at the Centre has to undergo a means test administered by the Legal Aid Officer (LAO) she sees in order to determine her eligibility for aid. Various indices are used in order to make the above determination. Some of these are means of livelihood, level of education, marital status, number of children, approximate annual income where applicable, the kind of economic activity the client is engaged in etc. The test is deliberately flexible and as such we realize that it is not foolproof.
Over the years the programme has identified three (3) categories of clients:
a) The client who needs legal aid because she is totally incapable of obtaining legal service as a result of her economic and other circumstances. To this client we render absolutely free service.
b) The client who is employed but earns a little more than minimum wage and therefore cannot engage the services of a lawyer. To this client we render all the necessary legal service but we expect her to make a contribution however small to the legal aid fund.
c) The woman of means who for one reason or the other decides that she would rather have a lawyer from FIDA Ghana to act for her. In this case the client gets a FIDA Ghana member in private practice to act for her. The practitioner treats her like any of her clients, but is required to pay one-third (1/3) of the fees charged into the legal aid fund.
Even though the services rendered at the legal aid Centre are free, as much as possible, recipients of legal aid are required to pay filing fees involved in prosecuting their cases before the courts.