A REMARK BY THE ATTORNEY-GENERAL AND MINISTER FOR JUSTICE DURING HIS VISIT TO THE JAMES CAMP PRISONS AND SENIOR CORRECTIONAL CENTER IN ACCRA

THE HON. DEPUTY MINISTER FOR THE INTERIOR,

HON. DEPUTY ATTORNEYS-GENERAL AND DEPUTY MINISTERS FOR JUSTICE,

THE SOLICITOR-GENERAL, THE DIRECTOR OF PUBLIC PROSECUTIONS,

THE DIRECTOR-GENERAL OF THE GHANA PRISONS SERVICE, DISTINGUISHED LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, FRIENDS OF THE MEDIA

 

I have embarked on a few visits to the prisons in times past, but none is as significant as the instant one. This is because, now, I am invested with public power and stand in the position to affect and influence the conditions in which our prisoners live.

We often hear about the deplorable conditions of our prisons. Even though the mandate of the Attorney-General, under article 88 of the Constitution is to prosecute crime and by necessary implication, to ensure conviction of criminals and to secure imprisonment where necessary, we have taken an interest in the conditions of our prisons because the welfare of all persons in Ghana, whether in detention or not, is paramount to us. So, the Attorney-General is not just an unconcerned jailor who ceases to care about the plight of persons serving various sentences in prison or even remand prisoners.

Thus, the purpose of this visit is to familiarise ourselves with the conditions of detention in this country so as to inform policy measures to ease congestion and generally improve conditions of detention.

Director-General, in coming here, I considered it necessary not to do so empty handed. I have a few items to assist with the feeding and care of the inmates.

I recognise that as the principal legal adviser to Government, my Office is also responsible for drafting of legislation in the country. Recourse can be made to this function for serious policy intervention to improve the criminal justice system and ease congestion in our prisons.

Director-General, Ghanaian prisons are required to serve the primary purpose of reforming the detained during the period of detention. It is for this reason that article 208(3)(k) of the Constitution provides for the Prisons Service Council to make regulations providing for “such measures, generally as will ensure the human treatment and welfare of prisoners and other persons in legal custody, including the provision of literature and writing material”. Our prisons are therefore supposed to provide conditions for learning and improving the education of prisoners.

However, the phenomenon of congestion in Ghanaian prisons is cast in story. The situation has accounted for the failure of the Prisons Council to discharge its constitutional mandate. A few interventions have been made in the past to ease the phenomenon.

I am aware that one such intervention is the Justice for All Programme. A state-led intervention and no doubt, now fully sponsored by the state, the Justice for All Programme seeks to alleviate prison overcrowding by setting up special courts to adjudicate cases involving remand prisoners in prisons throughout the country. It contributed significantly to the release of various prisoners on remand who constituted a very big number of persons serving time in our prisons. The programme received several commendations from member states of the United Nations during the 3rd cycle of Ghana’s UN Universal Periodic Review held in November 2017, with the Republic of Kenya even adopting and currently implementing a version of the model in their country under the same name – Justice for All.

However, it goes without saying that the Justice for All Programme has not generally solved the problem of congestion in Ghanaian prisons. A critical look, in my view, ought to be taken at the procedure for trial of criminal cases in Ghana and the kinds of punishment inflicted after trial. It is in this regard that my Office is seeking to introduce two important pieces of legislation which will have far-reaching consequences for the criminal justice system. They are, first, an amendment to the Criminal Procedure Act, 1960 (Act 30) to incorporate plea bargaining firmly into the trial of cases. By this amendment to the Criminal Procedure Act, plea bargaining will be permissible in all cases save a few that will be set out in the Act. I am happy to state that Cabinet about three weeks ago, granted approval to my request for the policy and the Bill for the amendment of the Criminal Procedure Act to incorporate plea bargaining to be laid before Parliament. Pursuant to the directives of Cabinet, I am consulting the Hon. Minister for the Interior on the exceptions to plea bargaining. I propose that treason, violent offences like rape, genocide, robbery, kidnapping, murder, attempted murder, abduction, defilement, piracy and offences related to public elections be excluded from plea bargaining. Apart from these offences, plea bargaining will be available in all other cases. I consider the introduction of plea bargaining the most significant innovation in the process of reform of the criminal justice system in Ghana which has the ultimate object of easing congestion in our prisons.

It is worthy to state that in order to safeguard against abuses, plea bargaining will be done only with the consent of the Attorney-General in line with his constitutional mandate under article 88 and will be done under strict conditions set out in the proposed bill.

The second innovation to ease congestion in our prisons is the passage of an Alternative Sentencing Act. I consider the passage of an Alternative Sentencing Act an urgent necessity. In this regard, I recently reviewed a draft Community Sentencing Bill that I charged the Director of Legislative Drafting in my Office to come up with. The draft Bill seeks to provide options for sentencing other than prison term for various offences considered not to be too serious. It is going through the process of stakeholder consultations and will soon be laid before Parliament upon conclusion of same. I am treating it both pieces of legislation as part of my priority legislations this year.

Director-General, I promise also to lead the advocacy in improving conditions in our prisons. I have been very pleased to be here as it has given me sufficient insight into conditions existing in our prisons.

Thank you very much. God bless us all!!