In our previous Working Paper (Crook et al., 2010) we argued that, contrary to current stereotypes of state justice in Africa, state courts and paralegal institutions in Ghana are providing forms of civil dispute resolution which are popular, reasonably accessible and congruent with the expectations and values which ordinary citizens have about justice.
The Magistrate’s (District) Courts and the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ) in particular were found to be offering the remedies which people wanted for different kinds of disputes, using procedures which were both informal (hence comprehensible) and seen as fair or impartial, in accordance with popular definitions of fairness as a ‘balanced process’.
In the case of the CHRAJ, its dispute resolution service is based on the use of a modern and internationally accepted form of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) which focuses on mediation and the construction of mutually accepted agreements between individual disputing parties.
The Magistrate’s Courts, however, offer a much broader range of procedures and codes of settlement combining formal legal remedies and application of statute, common and customary laws with informal procedures, and the opportunity to use ADR if chosen by the litigants. The hybridity of the Magistrate’s Courts provides an opportunity to investigate further the differences between court adjudications, which no matter how informal or user-friendly, are bound by formal law, and ADR.