In November 2015, the High Court (Human Rights Division) presided over the trainer of judges, Justice Dennis Adjei delivered a decision that has stopped police from secretly obtaining injunctions against demonstrations. The police, hitherto, mastered the art of running to the lower court; the Circuit Court, often a day before a lawful demonstration and springing the injunctive order on organisers the night before or the morning of the event.
They always had plenty excuses to give including that there was some more important event on the chosen day or that they did not have sufficient officers to police a demonstration because of some special duty on the day. I can’t recall the last time they came up with a lame excuse to foil a demonstration. Yes, they seem to have suddenly lost all the flimsy excuses since the court ruled that they couldn’t obtain such injunctions from the Circuit Court, and in applying to the High Court for such injunctions, they couldn’t do so ex parte (i.e. on the blindside of event organisers).
The requirement now is that they must apply to the High Court and must give notice to the other side to come to argue against their application because the right to demonstrate is a fundamental human right guaranteed by the Constitution of Ghana. So, you see, when law works in a society, it forces even lazy police officers who are given to take instructions from politicians to not only sit up, but imbued with power to do right by citizens, rather than abuse the power and persecute rather than protect citizens for whose welfare they have a job.
Recently, it was a delight to watch demonstrating citizens insist and point the police to their constitutional and birthrights when they allegedly attempted to dictate and frustrate their march protesting the mindless bloodshed in Bawaleshie and insecurity in the country.
Let’s enjoy life using the law. The law is that citizens planning to hold in a public place a special event like a demonstration, procession, carnival, street dance do not require permission from the police but must notify them not less than five days to the event. The local police station must be informed of the nature of the event, date, time of commencement and closure, the venue and proposed routes and destination.
The officer, not below the rank of ASP or officer in charge of the station who receives the notice may request, not order, a postponement or relocation of the event. This request must only be made because of sound reason that the event will result in violence or endanger public defence, public order, public safety, public health or the running of essential services or violate the rights and freedoms of others.
The organisers must then write, within forty-eight hours of the request to indicate their willingness to comply, and if they fail, the police can only stop the event by a court order.
It is important to cooperate with the police because you need them to maintain order. And don’t forget that if there is a breach of the law including hitting the streets without the notification or if there be damage to property during the demonstration, organisers will suffer alone or along with law-breaking demonstrators. If found guilty, you will not only pay for the damage caused but could pay up to GHC 3000.00 or plus spend up to one year in jail.
Read the Public Order Act, 1994 (Act 491) and Article 21 of the 1992 Constitution for more.
Samson Lardy ANYENINI
February 16, 2019