1. Introduction

As society changes and criminal jurisprudence evolves, the Attorney-General felt the need to amend Criminal and Other Offences (Procedure) Act, 1960 (Act 30), which had been in existence for almost six decades to meet the needs of society and bring the criminal justice system in tune with international best practices.  One of such evolving best practices is plea-bargaining concept.  Through the efforts of the Attorney-General, Parliament has enacted the Criminal and Other Offences (Procedure) (Amendment) Act, 2022 (Act 1079) to provide for plea-bargaining in the administration of criminal justice in Ghana.

Act 1079 defines plea-bargaining as a process in the criminal justice system where accused persons relinquish their right to go through full trial in exchange for some other benefits.  The Act enumerates these benefits as including reduction of the offence to be charged to a lesser offence, reduction in the punishment for an offence charged or a withdrawal of some of the charges against the accused person.  In addition, State prosecutors may save time, resources and personnel needed for a full trial by offering accused persons a plea-bargain or accepting one from them, freeing and enabling the Attorney-General’s Office to be more effective and efficient.  Apart from benefits to accused persons and prosecutors, the criminal justice system stands to gain from the plea-bargaining law in many ways:  reduced court dockets, speedy criminal trials, non-custodial sentences that reduce congestion in the prisons and restoring criminal victims by compensating them.  Act 1079 does not allow for plea-bargaining in all criminal offences.  Treason, high treason, rape, defilement, genocide, robbery and kidnapping are exempted, as are attempted murder, abduction, piracy and hijacking, as well as an offence related to public elections.

The introduction of the plea-bargaining law is undoubtedly a major overhaul in Ghana’s criminal justice system.  However, whether implementation of the plea-bargaining law is sustained depends on a variety of factors, including public knowledge and perceptions.  What typically has been missing from public discourse has been public feedback on the plea-bargaining implementation.  There is a gap in the knowledge base around what the public know, think and feel about the plea-bargaining law and why, and what implications this has for the implementation of the law in the country.  In response to the above and in order to fill the knowledge gap, the Ministry undertook a study on citizens’ knowledge and perceptions of the plea-bargaining law.  Specifically, the study assessed citizens’ knowledge and awareness of the plea-bargaining law; their perspectives on the perceived benefits and drawbacks of the plea-bargaining law.

  1. Methodology

The study employed a cross-sectional survey approach and data were generated using structured questionnaires.  The key units of analysis comprised Ghanaians aged 15 years and above.  This provided a spectrum of understanding on how individuals at various age groups perceived the plea-bargaining arrangement in the country.  The study was carried out in the following districts in the Greater Accra Region:  Accra Metropolis, Shai-Osudoku Municipality, and Ga South Municipality.  The study sample was determined using purposive and convenience sampling procedures.  After careful consideration of options and also based on hindsight, time and resources available, a sample size of two hundred (200) was deemed adequate for the survey.  The results are presented using descriptive statistical techniques such as tables, charts, graphs, percentages and frequencies.  The research was conducted between August and September of 2023.

  1. Findings

In terms of respondents’ knowledge of plea-bargaining concept, 38.6% of the respondents had some knowledge of the concept.  In contrast, a higher proportion (61.4%) of the respondents had no knowledge of the concept.  Thus, majority of the survey respondents have no knowledge about plea-bargaining concept.

One of the key findings of the research was the low level of awareness of the plea-bargaining law in Ghana.  Seven (7) out of 10 respondents, 65.8% were not aware of the law.  It turned out that only 34.2% of respondents were aware of the plea-bargaining law. 

In terms of citizens’ perspectives on the stated benefits of the plea-bargaining law, the respondents generally saw the plea-bargaining arrangement as an efficient justice delivery mechanism in terms of time and cost saving to the State and the accused person as well as a means to decongest the courts.  Thus, the results showed that there is some level of acceptance among a segment of the population regarding the stated benefits of the plea-bargaining arrangement.

Majority of the respondents (62.1%) disagreed with the view that the plea-bargaining law would lessen punishments for offenders.  The results therefore suggest that the respondents had a positive attitude towards the practice of plea-bargaining.  Put differently, the respondents yielded to the rationale for the introduction of plea-bargaining law in the administration of criminal justice in the country.

  1. Conclusion and Recommendation

The study revealed knowledge and awareness gap in terms of plea-bargaining concept and the plea-bargaining law.  The study has profound implications for policy and other stakeholders in the criminal justice system, particularly, prosecutors who are the implementers of the law.

In light of the survey’s findings, it is recommended that the Ministry undertakes public education on the plea-bargaining law to sensitise stakeholders.  The sensitisation will bring out the important role of State prosecutors, accused persons and the courts in the implementation of the law.  This will contribute not only to enhancing the knowledge of citizens on the plea-bargaining law, it will also help build public trust and increase public confidence, cooperation, and support in the implementation of the plea-bargaining law.

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