Access to justice and resolution of criminal cases at informal chiefs's courts : the Ewe of Ghana

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Abstract: Lack of access to justice is a global problem. In Ghana, the state courts are few, poorly distributed, poorly resourced, and incapable of providing justice for everyone. There is a general quest for alternative forums to complement state courts to improve access to justice. One of these alternatives is the chiefs' courts. Yet, chiefs' courts, the dispute resolution forums of chiefs and their elders outside the state courts, do not have criminal jurisdiction. This jurisdictional ban has, however, not stopped chiefs from assuming jurisdiction over criminal offenses and settling criminal cases. Not much is known about current chiefs' courts and their criminal settlement processes. This dissertation aims at finding out whether the chiefs' courts could be viable alternatives to state courts in dispute resolution. The specific objectives are to establish the nature of the chiefs' courts, the range of offenses before them, the procedures used in resolving criminal cases, the conformance of chiefs' courts with human rights standards, and their acceptability to litigants. This dissertation could make meaningful contributions to the debate on the Ghanaian alternative dispute resolution (ADR) bill that is currently under consideration. Furthermore, it would contribute to the understanding of current chiefs' courts and whether they should be promoted. If not, it poses whether new alternative dispute resolution systems need to be formed to improve access to justice in Ghana. In addition, this dissertation could be useful to scholars of comparative law as an additional literature source on chiefs' courts as a feature of the Ghanaian legal system. To achieve the aim and objectives, outlined above, a qualitative socio-legal study involving a total of five months field work was undertaken in six Ewe towns in Ghana. Data was gathered through direct observation of settlement proceedings at current Ewe chiefs' courts. Data was also gathered through in-depth interviews of the chiefs to determine criminal offenses before them, the hierarchy and composition of the courts, and procedures used to settle cases. In-depth interviews of litigants at both chiefs' and state courts were conducted to determine acceptability of chiefs' courts to the people. Written materials from archival colonial criminal court records were reviewed to determine types of offenses among the Ewe in colonial times. State court documents were also reviewed to determine the rate of resolution of criminal cases in the courts. The dissertation has revealed that among the Ewe there exists a hierarchy of chiefs and their courts. Criminal cases before these courts include: assault and battery related to quarrels, fights, and accusations of witchcraft. Others are theft, domestic violence and defilement of girls. Participation in these courts is voluntary. The chiefs' forums deal with cases brought to them directly by anyone or withdrawn from state courts for settlement. The proceedings are ritualized "customary law" processes for settling cases that are fast, familiar, readily available, and accessible to users. Chiefs' courts facilitate access to justice because their processes bring lasting peace between parties, give them remedies sought, and enable them avoid delays associated with state courts. However, inadequate enforcement mechanisms, bias and litigation of certain cases that warrant mandatory prosecutions, like defilement of girls at chiefs' courts, constitute downsides of the chiefs' courts. Chiefs' courts could be viable alternatives to state courts in resolution of criminal cases, as long as the chiefs' courts are regulated by statute clearly laying out the limits to their jurisdiction. Minor offenses like petty theft, slander and defamation associated with assault and minor harm could be expeditiously dealt with in chiefs' courts. It is better to use these pre-existing chiefs' courts and their system of justice rather than the ADR bill system because chiefs' courts have better cost, accessibility, acceptability, and effectiveness. More research on chiefs' courts in Ghana however, needs to be done to qualitatively and quantitatively assess the general usage of these courts in the country.


Type of resource text
Form electronic; electronic resource; remote
Extent 1 online resource.
Publication date 2010
Issuance monographic
Language English


Associated with Morhe, Renee A
Associated with Stanford University, School of Law.
Primary advisor Fisher, George
Thesis advisor Fisher, George
Thesis advisor Kessler, Amalia D
Thesis advisor Roberts, Richard, active 1899
Advisor Kessler, Amalia D
Advisor Roberts, Richard, active 1899


Genre Theses

Bibliographic information

Statement of responsibility Renee A Morhe.
Note Submitted to the School of Law.
Thesis Thesis (JSD)--Stanford University, 2010.
Location electronic resource

Access conditions

© 2010 by Renee A Morhe
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial 3.0 Unported license (CC BY-NC).

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