A section of Journalists in the county have joined Civil Society Organizations to work towards decriminalizing petty offences, a move that could potentially reduce the numbers in the Ghana’s prisons, while preserving the human right of petty offenders.
The advocacy, led by the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) Africa Office is in line with the provisions of the Ouagadougou Declaration and Plan of Action on Accelerating Prisons and Penal Reforms (Ouagadougou Guidelines- 2002) and the Guidelines on the Conditions of Arrest, Police Custody and Pre-Trial Detention in Africa, (Luanda Guidelines – 2004).
The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) under its Principles on Decriminalization of Petty Offences in Africa defines Petty offences as minor offences for which the punishment is prescribed by law to carry a warning, community service, a low-value fine or short term of imprisonment, often for failure to pay the fine.
In Ghana petty offences are entrenched in the Constitution and are criminalized under the Criminal Offences Act, 1960.
Most of these petty offences are created through by-laws by institutions like the Ghana Police Service and the Metropolitan, Municipal and District Assemblies. Examples of these by –laws include laws criminalizing informal commercial activities, such as hawking and vending, and road traffic offence such as offences on motorcycle. These offences have disproportionate impact on the poor, vulnerable and marginalized in society which has contributed to overpopulation at the detention centres.
The enforcement of petty offences by the relevant authorities has been contrary to the fundamental human rights enshrined in the Constitution. For example, the Constitution provides that an arrested person should be brought to court within forty eight hours or otherwise be released on bail but in practice, this provision is often violated, such that offenders are arrested without any evidence and detained for longer than the stipulated period on the basis that evidence is still being gathered to enable prosecution. Sometimes offenders are granted bail conditions which they are unable to meet and therefore continue in detention.
The campaign is thus to push for reform of petty offences in Ghana, while contributing to the ongoing initiatives to reform the justice sector and improve access to justice for the poor.
According to the advocates, the enforcement of petty offences by the relevant authorities has been contrary to the fundamental human rights enshrined in the Constitution. In particular, the group says the Constitution of Ghana provides that an arrested person should be brought to court within forty eight hours or otherwise be released on bail but in practice, this provision is often violated, such that offenders are arrested without any evidence and detained for longer than the stipulated period on the basis that evidence is still being gathered to enable prosecution
The journalists joined the campaign to use their medium to raised awareness as well as shape the public opinion towards decriminalizing petty offences in Ghana.
At a day’s workshop organized by the Common Wealth Human Right Initiative in Accra recently, the journalists committed to ensuring that they wage a relentless campaign to ensure that petty offences are decriminalized in the country.
Below is a communique issued by the media:
Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) Africa Office Media Workshop on Decriminalizing Petty Offences in Ghana Thursday, 2nd May 2019: Tomreik Hotel, East Legon, Accra
We, the media organisations represented and media practitioners participating in the first Media Workshop on Decriminalizing Petty Offences in Ghana organised by the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) Africa Office, Noting with appreciation, the initiatives by CHRI through research, advocacy and awarenessraising on improving access to justice in Ghana through the decriminalisation of petty offences and its resultant effect on reducing the recourse to custodial sentencing; Observing with concern the spate of human rights violations associated with pre-trial, trial and post-trial processes and its disproportionate impact on the poor and vulnerable sections of the Ghanaian population;
Recognising the significant opportunities offered by the Ouagadougou Declaration and Plan of Action on Accelerating Prisons and Penal Reforms in Africa, the Luanda Guidelines on the Conditions of Arrest, Custody and Pre-trial Detention in Africa and the Principles on the Decriminalisation of Petty Offences in Africa adopted by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) to guide State Parties in the improvement of their respective criminal justice systems;
Further noting that the Criminal Offences Act, 1960 (Act 29) and other key national laws on criminal conduct do not expressly provide for petty offences and consequently the need for law reform to provide for such a category of offences;
Recognising the significant role that the media plays in reporting cases of violations of due process rights and advocacy for accountability, remedies, policy, legal and institutional reforms in the justice delivery and human rights protection systems; Do commit to undertake the following measures:
- Educate and sensitize the general public on what constitutes petty or minor offences through radio and television programmes;
- Publish articles in the print and electronic media on the decriminalisation of petty offences;
- Generate public interest by collating public opinion to gauge the society’s approach to the conversation on the decriminalisation of petty offences;
- Solicit the support of interested parties led by experts in criminal justice, criminal law and human rights to advocate for Parliament to seriously consider the decriminalisation of petty offences;
- Champion the cause of decriminalisation of petty offences by sharing the knowledge acquired from the Workshop with other colleagues in the media and raising the issue of decriminalisation of petty offences during Editorial meetings;
- Engage in social media advocacy using infographics;
- Liaise with the National Commission for Civic Education (NCCE) to educate the public on the necessity of decriminalisation of petty offences in Ghana and to urge various institutions such as the Commission for Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ) and other key stakeholders to ensure a synergised approach towards advocating for the decriminalization of petty offences in Ghana;
- Create an online platform to share knowledge geared towards meeting the objectives of the Workshop; and
- Interview persons charged with and/or convicted of petty offences and share their experiences through publications.
Done in Accra, Ghana on Thursday, 2nd May 2019 Media Organizations Present: 1. Daily Graphic 2. Ghanaian Times 3. Ghana News Agency 4. Public Agenda 5. Joy News 6. Citi FM/ TV 7. Starr FM 8. 3FM 9. Radio XYZ 10. Accra FM 11. Angel FM 12. Class FM 13. Adom FM/TV 14. GBC (Radio & Television) 15. TV3 16. GHONE TV 17. Net 2 TV 18. EBN TV 19. Angel TV 20. Radio Emashie 21. Obonu FM 22. Latenu Radio 23. Modern Ghana 24. Radio Peace 25. Radio Wa 26. Ghana News Online 27. Blogging Ghana 28. Radio Breezy 29. Oyerepa FM 30. OTEC FM-Kumasi 31. Rainbow Radio.
By Mohammed Suleman