General News of 2014-06-21

Criminal justice system is ‘time bomb’ — Justice Dotse

A Judge of the Supreme Court, Mr Justice Jones Dotse, has described the criminal justice system in the country as a “time bomb waiting to explode.”

He wondered if the country would be able to withstand a revolt in the prisons that were overpopulated and dehumanising, and advocated change in the criminal justice system.

Justice Dotse made the suggestion when he chaired a symposium on the criminal justice system of Ghana organised by HelpLaw Ghana a private legal aid body, with support from the Open Society Initiative of West Africa (OSIWA).

He proposed a resort to non-custodial sentencing by judges, as that had merits in shaming perpetrators of crime and deterring them from committing further crimes.

That, he added, would also decongest the prisons and forestall the situation where some youth spent the best part of their productive years behind bars due to incarceration.

Justice Dotse also underscored the need for a sentencing guideline to help judges in their work.

The Dean of the Faculty of Law of the Central University College (CUC), Professor Ken Attafuah, in a presentation on sentencing guidelines, noted that sentencing was a human process and, like any human endeavour, was subject to all human frailties.

He was of the view, therefore, that any sentencing guideline to be adopted had to bring clarity to the murky field of sentencing, ensure restraint in the imposition of punishment, and fair and equitable judgement.

Prof. Stephen Kweku Asare, gave an interesting presentation on prevailing issues of constitutional interest.

For instance, he said the President usurped the powers of Parliament when he established the Constitutional Review commission (CRC) and the Constitutional Review Implementation Commission (CRIC).

He said Article 278 (1) (a), under which the President based the establishment of those commissions, was about the establishment of a commission by the President to look into a matter of “public interest.”

The Founder and Executive Director of HelpLaw Ghana, Mr Eric Delanyo Alifo, in his presentation, catalogued some lapses in the criminal justice system.

He decried the treatment of suspects at the hands of the police and pointed out that anybody could become a suspect.

For example, Mr Alifo said the police had been using what they termed “a talk true slap,” to exact confessions from suspects.

With those confessions, he said judges went on to sentence people, most of whom were innocent, without scrutinising the validity of the confessions.

Mr Francis Agyare, who was remanded for 14 years and six months, shared his experiences at the symposium.

What stood out in his narration was that the police failed to investigate his case.

Mr Agyare was recently awarded Ghc200,000 by a Human Rights Court.