Knee-deep in cases

I arrived at work on Tuesday in high spirits and eager to peruse our pending cases. Barely five minutes after settling down to work, the mother of the victim of our hit-and-run case walked in. She had come back to report on her inability to acquire receipts from the hospital (needed as proof of medical expenditure). The mother’s worried disposition was reflective of the severity of the case at hand with no clear solution in sight. I would have loved to offer her concrete news but unfortunately we had to wait until our visit to the police station later that day where the perpetrator was expected to be present. We informed her of this appointment to the police station and bid her farewell temporarily.

Sarah came in to the FLAP centre, about thirty minutes later, to officially bring a claim against her mother. Vidette filled in the client intake form electronically and I interpreted the ordeal to Axel while Sarah narrated it in our local dialect. The story was a rather long and complex one with inconsistencies arising here and there. From this, I learnt the importance of having great listening skills as a lawyer as well as good memory-retention skills. It is easier to catch inconsistencies in stories when you pay careful attention and you remember accurately what has been discussed hitherto. After discussing the matter with Frederick, it was decided that the best route for Sarah’s case was mediation and Sarah was asked to return to the centre later on in the afternoon so we would go to her mother’s house in order for us to hear the mother’s version of events and attempt to resolve issues.

Surprisingly, the woman who had reported her 16 year old daughter’s child maintenance case the day before had not shown up. This sudden dragging of feet was slightly puzzling considering how eager she had been for justice at the outreach. There was no time to go to the mechanic’s place for the planned mediation for the abortion case as we had to head over to the police station to see to the hit-and-run case. Seeing as the hit and run case preceded the abortion case we sought closure on the former before fully tackling the latter. We arrived at the police station and the owner of the vehicle was not in sight. Neither was the perpetrator. The station manager at Old Fadama advised us to go and see the District Commander at James Town, since the latter commanded higher authority, in order to have some official documents retrieved and speed up investigations. We took his advice, arrived at James Town Police Station and were invited into the district commander’s office where Frederick communicated the purpose of our visit. The district commander asked us to return on Thursday at 2pm by which time the official documents would have been retrieved.

Next on the agenda was the visit to Sarah’s mother’s house. We were expectant that we would meet the client’s mother at the house having been told that she was a housewife. Our expectations were met. We arrived at the house to find the mother busily scaling fish. The house is a compound house inhabited by other families as well. The inhabitants readily recognised Sarah with some of them exclaiming, “Na, Sister”! which means, “See, Sister” in Ga. I gathered from this that she is addressed as “Sister” at home; a rather common Ghanaian nickname. Sarah was however met with a rather steely glare from her mother and her disposition became even more sombre at the sight of her mother. We were warmly welcomed, given seats and addressed by the mother when she had finished scaling the fish. We were informed that we were not the first NGO to come and speak on Sarah’s behalf. As anticipated, the mother had her own version of events, similar to that of the fellow inhabitants present, which was equally convincing. I felt torn. Emotionally, my heart was inclined towards Sarah who even though she may have mischievously run away, was still a child and had to be protected at all costs. However, rationally I had to listen and think with a lawyer’s mind, put my emotions on pause, and seek an effective solution that would simply move the case forward. Taking sides here would simply lead to a deadlock. I was asked by the client’s mother to get up and follow her.  On the one hand following her to an unknown place would certainly be going beyond that which is expected of a text-book mediator and on the other hand I was fully aware of the role culture has to play in mediating issues. I jumped out of my seat a split-second after her request and followed her.

The client’s mother took me across the street to two nearby sellers who eagerly narrated Sarah’s history of running away from home and made me understand that the physical abuse Sarah had earlier claimed she had experienced was rather the mundane beating of a child who had to be chastised for acting wayward. I was pleased that I could communicate with them in Ga as I believe this helped them to trust me and open up to me. They asked me if my mother had beaten me as a child to which I replied in the affirmative. I then went on to further explain the dividing line between what is accepted as discipline in our culture and extremities of such discipline which may be labelled as physical abuse. They denied vehemently that Sarah’s mother had abused her. I returned to the house with Sarah’s mother who was now visibly worked up yet kept insisting that she would say nothing at all on the matter. After Frederick talked for a bit, we arranged to meet up with the mother on Friday at 11am to discuss a way forward and the possibility of Sarah returning home. I left Sarah’s mother’s abode feeling as though we had indeed made progress. There was a greater probability of Sarah having a safe place she could call home once again and her dream of going to school could be realised. Instinctively, I knew this case could end on a good note for both parties involved. I left work that Tuesday a very hopeful Nana.