Public Agenda Accra
Judges Divided Over Capital Punishment
By Ebenezer Hanson
The debate on whether capital punishment, otherwise known as Death Penalty, should be abolished or not was brought into sharp focus during Tuesday's sitting of the Appointments Committee of Parliament. The four Appeal Court Judges who appeared before it in respect of their nomination by the President to the Supreme Court, were sharply divided over the issue: two were for its repeal, while the other advocated its retention.
Justices Rose Constance Owusu and Paul Baffoe-Bonnie submitted that Capital Punishment should be maintained while Justices Anin Yeboah and Jones Dotse were of the view that it should be expunged from the Statue books.
The posture of the Appointments Committee members favours that of abolition of the law and they argue that that is the contemporary thinking and Ghana should not be left behind.
Advancing arguments for the retention, the 64-year-old Ms Justice Owusu, a staunch Presbyterian and 20 years of service at the bench, disclosed that her stance is rooted in the Biblical injunction as uttered by the Lord Jesus Christ: " He who draws the sword must die by the sword."
According to her, she does not see the reason why an accused that had gone through a fair trial and having been proven beyond reasonable doubt that he was guilty of murder should not be asked to face the same fate.
But the Minority Leader, Hon. Alban S. K. Bagbin, a Catholic by faith, felt Justice Owusu was misapplying the Scriptures and drew her attention to the Bible passage which says that " Vengeance belongs to God "; alluding to the fact God has not conferred the power of taking the life of any human being into the hands of another.
Justices Anin and Dotse agreed with members of the committee that history is replete with stories from other jurisdictions where people have been executed for murder and later evidence had proven that they were not guilty of the offence. But it "was too late" because the affected persons could not be resurrected. The two judges favour life sentence to capital punishment, their reason being that if later evidence proves that there was miscarriage of justice the person so sentenced could be set free.
The death penalty has been on Ghana's statute books since the inception of English common law in the country in 1874. Ghana still retains the death penalty for armed robbery, treason and first-degree murder. Under Article 72 of the Constitution the president may exercise the Prerogative of Mercy and grant amnesty.
According to human rights activists and the Ghana Bar Association, at least 155 people were executed between 1984 and 1993 when former President Jerry Rawlings headed the Provisional National Defence Council government. Many were soldiers suspected of coup plotting.
But the situation has changed now. In April 2000, 100 people had their death sentences commuted to life terms. In February 2001, the then Justice Minister, and present NPP flagbearer, Nana Akufo-Addo, spoke out publicly against the death penalty. In June 2003, nearly ten years after the last execution (July 1993), President John Agyekum Kufuor, known as the "Gentle Giant", granted amnesty to 179 prisoners that had spent at least ten years on death row.
No executions have taken place since July 1993, when 12 prisoners who had been convicted of armed robbery or murder were executed by firing squad. Executions may also be carried out by hanging but Ghana's last hanging was performed in 1968.
On March 6, 2007 President, John Kufuor, freed or commuted the sentences of 1,206 prisoners to mark the 50th anniversary of independence, according to an Interior Ministry statement. Thirty-six prisoners who were on death row have had their sentences commuted to life in prison.
Three prisoners who were serving life sentences had their jail terms reduced to 20 years. And 1,167 detainees serving lesser sentences were freed. Ghana's prison population stands at just under 12,000.
On December 18, 2007 Ghana abstained on the Resolution on a Moratorium on the Use of the Death Penalty at the UN General Assembly.