Pipeline to prison: Barker-Vormawor seeks justice for man imprisoned wrongly

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A Founding Partner of Merton and Everett LLP, Oliver Barker-Vormawor, says the firm is preparing to seek compensation for Kwabena Huletey, a farmer who was wrongly imprisoned for almost seven years.

This follows The Fourth Estate’s story on how lapses in Ghana’s justice system lead the poor to prison. The story recounted how, without much evidence, Mr Huletey was charged with murder, and spent six years and three months in prison.

Mr Huletey was arrested in August 2015 after a neighbour reported to the police that he was keeping the corpse of his live-in partner in his room. The partner had died after prolonged illness but Mr Huletey, unable to afford the cost of preserving the corpse in a morgue, kept it at home as he went about begging for financial support.

When he was put before the District Court at Mampong-Akuapem in the Eastern Region in September 2015 on a charge of murder, the police prosecutor asked the Court to remand Mr Huletey in custody as the matter was still being investigated. After a year in custody, the court acquitted him and ordered his release as it became clear that there was no evidence to prosecute him for murder.

But instead of being released, the police officer sent Mr Huletey back to the Koforidua Prison where he ended up spending five more years until a Non-Governmental Organisation picked up his case and got him released.

The long-time detention has ruined his health, according to him and his family. He can’t see from afar and he is gradually losing hearing in his right ear. Sleeping on his side for years in prison has affected his hips.

Mr Barker-Vormawor, after visiting Mr Huletey on Thursday, June 13, 2024, said what the farmer has been through is not only “infuriating” but makes him angry at how the Ghanaian society just moves on after individuals suffer such grave injustices.

Pipeline to prison How Ghanas legal system punishes the poor
Ama Forson and Kwabena Huletey ended up in prison because they could not afford the high cost of legal fees
[Illustration by Clement Edward Kumsah/The Fourth Estate]
“Anger at the system for normalising these abuses is what connected me to Huletey’s case,” he said, adding that “seeing how much broken he had become and reduced to squatting in a dilapidated building was gut-wrenching.”

Given that documentation about Mr Huletey’s case is scanty, Mr Barker-Vormawor and his team plan to first trace all the relevant documents relating to his arrest and detention.

“Mr Huletey has been helpful in pointing us in some direction; and the prison notes he made in his Bible will allow us to go far. But we will need to do more to corroborate everything said. So, the first step is really an investigative step to fact find,” he said.

After this, they intend to obtain a medical report to determine the extent of the impact of Mr Huletey’s incarceration on his health.

“Finally, we will file a human rights action at the Supreme Court, demanding compensation for the harm he has suffered,” he added.

Mr Barker-Vormawor said what happened to Mr Huletey confirms the fundamental and systemic challenges in Ghana’s legal system.

“The fact that the Prisons Service can keep someone in custody for that long without enquiring about whether his fair trial rights are being respected is indicting. The fact that the court discharged a person without insisting that the person they had remanded be brought before them is unacceptable,” he said.

He said the practice where courts accept the plea of prosecutors to remand accused persons because they claim they are investigating the case, when they don’t have enough evidence to present a substantive charge, must seriously be looked at.

“Our law requires that persons be brought before a court on a substantive charge. Charges imply that the prosecutor has reached a fair and reasonable opinion about guilt and that’s why they are being charged. In this regard, it is unacceptable to charge a person with crime you admit you haven’t finished investigating. It is unfortunate that the courts accept that as sufficient basis to deny people their liberty for years and years,” he said.

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Pipeline to prison: How Ghana’s legal system punishes the poor

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