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General News Sun, 1 Aug 2010

Editorial: Abolish Death Penalty

A recent judicial incident of momentous implications has gone unnoticed and that is the setting free from prison of one Benard Tagoe who had been on death row for the past 24 years. The noteworthy event was engendered by an Appeal Court decision which overturned a lower court's Death Penalty sentence slapped on Benard when he was then a student at age 18.

The Appeal Court premised its landmark judgment on new evidence which exonerated Benard from a crime he had wrongfully bore for 24 long years in condemned prisons at Nsawam. But for divine intervention, Benard would have tasted death, and that would have been one of the gravest travesty of justice in Ghana's legal history.

If Benard, now 42, had been executed his case would have been a classic example of what Amnesty International (AI) has repeatedly stated, to wit, executing an innocent person as a result of miscarriage of justice. In place of the Death Penalty, otherwise known as Capital Punishment, the AI had invariably advocated life imprisonment for culprits in cases where evidence is overwhelming and irrefutable.

Life Sentence provides an opportunity for a convict who had wrongfully been convicted to avail himself or herself of appeal processes and if he/she succeeds the judgement is rightfully overturned. That is exactly what has transpired in the case of Benard.

Like AI we oppose the Death Penalty on the grounds that it sometimes leads to the execution of innocent people, and its motive is not justice but revenge and above all it violates the criminal's right to life.

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Supporters believe that the penalty is justified for murderers by the principle of retribution that life imprisonment is not an equally effective deterrent, and that the death penalty affirms the right to life by punishing those who violate it in the strictest form. But evidence abounds that the Death penalty does not deter people from committing murder and other capital offences.

Many countries, following critical examination and appraisal, have expunged the Capital Punishment from their statute books; available statistics puts the figure at 95 countries. Ghana still retains the Death penalty. Although the Fourth Republican Constitution guarantees the right to life, it is limited by Article 13(1) which upholds the death sentence as provided for in the Criminal Code of Ghana (1960).

Benard's case should provide enough bases for the Constitution Review Commission to consider the repeal of the Death Penalty. There might be many Benards on death row who do not have the resources to exercise their right of appeal and a day may come when luck will not smile on them and their death warrants may be signed hastening their steps to the grave. The most painful thing is that death is irreversible, and it will be better to suffer some murderers to be alive on life sentence than to kill one innocent person as a result of death penalty.

We thus call on the government to include, if it had not already done so, the repeal of the Death Penalty as one of its proposals to the Constitution Review Commission and we are sure that Ghanaians will give it their blessings in the referendum expected to follow the review exercise.

Source: Public Agenda
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