A former Commissioner of the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ), Justice Emile Short, has bemoaned the laws that criminalise petty offences describing them as vague, arbitrary, and highly dependent on police discretion for arrest.
He said that encouraged the police to engage in corruption, extortion, arrest, and unlawful detention which society should frown upon to stop police discretion.
“The criminal justice system discriminates against the poor and the vulnerable in many ways and the starting point is how the police treat such suspects, who do not know their human rights,” Justice Short decried.
He was speaking at the National Conference on ‘Decriminalising Petty Offences in Ghana’ on the theme: ‘Decriminalising Petty Offences-The State, the Offender, the Society’ was under the auspices of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI), Africa Office in partnership with the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ).
It was organised to discuss ‘Concrete Steps to Mainstream Decriminalisation of Petty/Minor Offences’, which fall under misdemeanours into the ongoing justice sector reform programme.
According to Justice Short, invariably, suspects were kept in custody without being brought before the courts within the constitutionally mandated period of 48 hours and suffer in silence because they could not afford services of lawyers to compel the police to put them before the court within 48 hours.
He explained that even though the Supreme Court had in landmark ruling directed the 48 hours for detaining suspects would now include weekends and holidays, the police continued to detain some poor and vulnerable suspects over the weekends and holidays with excuse the courts were not working.
Alfred Tuah-Yeboah, the Deputy Attorney General and Minister of Justice, stated that the enforcement of the offences had been shown to disproportionately impact the poor and enforced negative stereotypes, efforts had been made to reduce the number of prison population through initiatives such as Justice for All Programme and also plea-bargaining arrangement in criminal cases that were at advanced stages of consideration.
Mina Mensah, Director of CHRI Africa Office, observed that since 2017 the Africa Office as part of its access to justice programme had been advocating for decriminalising of petty offences in Ghana as part of an African regional campaign with support and assistance from Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA) which the advocacy took inspiration fromrequest by the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights that stated decriminalise certain petty offences that violated fundamental principles of legality and non-discrimination under African Charter.
“Although policy makers in principle have agreed and state publicly the law needs to change, reality is, there is no appetite to put action to rhetoric mainly because there is no pressure on the government to do so although Ghana is signatory to the African Charter.
“CHRI in partnership with CHRAJ and other civil society organisations in the space promote acceptance by policy makers to decriminalise petty offences as part of ongoing justice sector reforms to ensure holistic approach to age-old problems and decongest overpopulated prisons,” Madam Mensah noted. -GNA