Prof. Kenneth Attafuah, a private legal practitioner and the Executive Director of the Justice and Human Rights Institute in Accra, has said the establishment of a Presidential Commission on Crime and Justice in the country is long overdue.
He said the establishment of the commission would help tackle the incidence of crime and mob action.
Speaking at the third annual Human Rights lectures in Accra, he listed some of the functions of the commission as investigations and reports on the trend, causes and ramifications of violent crime in the country.
The lectures were organised by the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI), the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ) and the Ghana Bar Association (GBA) on the theme: “50 Years of the Rule of Law in Ghana: Assessing Human Rights Protection”.
In his presentation on “Instant Justice, the Criminal Justice System and Human Rights in Ghana” Prof. Attafuah pointed out that the incidence of instant justice showed a general lack of public confidence in the country’s capacity to be “decent in punishing wrongdoing decisively” and in accordance with the rule of law.”
He said instant justice depicted the Ghanaian society to the rest of the world as “both primitive and barbaric” while announcing that our criminal justice system, that included the police, the courts and the prison service, were “fragile, incompetent and putrid”.
Analysing what instant justice is, he said the term was a misnomer as what happened when it occurred was the “imposition of instant injustice”.
Prof. Attafuah stressed that the phenomenon of mob justice, and sometimes police complicity in such acts, as well as the tagging of suspects as criminals, was contrary to the Ghanaian social ordering and criminal justice system that had as its basis in the presumption of innocence unless a suspect was proved guilty.
He warned that instant justice impinged on national security and engendered lives of the citizenry as its administration was not founded on facts proven through the regular judicial process.
“Virtually anyone can easily be ‘mistaken’ for a criminal and summarily punished,” he pointed out.
A lecturer at the Faculty of Law of the University of Ghana, Dr Raymond Atuguba, in his presentation on “Stamping out Rights: The impact of Police Brutality on Democracy and Good Governance”, emphasised the fact that police brutality covered a wide range of acts that could be relative.
He said the term “police brutality” focused on the police as perpetrators, leaving out the victims who suffered forceful and brutish acts that were sometimes fatal.
Dr Atuguba said police brutality was a reality and could not only be physical but verbal.
He said brute force sometimes meted out on the public or suspects could sometimes take the form of acts or inaction that impinged negatively on people.
Citing instances, he recounted how a five-month-old baby became ill after being forced to spend the night in a Kumasi jail with her parents and an aunt.
Dr Atuguba said the inculcation of human rights or human dignity in all Ghanaians was the first step in ending the use of brute force by the police on people and suspects.
He decried instances of gross human rights abuses in countries such as Rwanda and Burundi, saying that such abuses had been possible because human dignity, that distinguishes humans from beast, was stripped of individuals and groups by perpetrators before they committed heinous abuses.
From various perspectives, Dr Atuguba explained the causes and nature of police brutality, attributing it among other things to the outdated standing orders of the Police Service, and the penchant of the media, human rights activists and civil society organisations to blow an instance of the phenomenon out of proportion and keep quiet over the several others that happened and did not get public attention.
On what could be done, he proposed the constant scrutiny of the police by all, as the police were vested with the “state’s monopoly of power”.
He said that was necessary because all humans erred and the police were human but vested with the state’s power.
Intense and perpetual scrutiny, according to Dr Atuguba, would ensure they wielded the power vested in them responsibly.
The Regional Co-ordinator of the CHRI, Nana Oye Lithur, who spoke on accessibility of justice in Ghana, listed the lack of the knowledge of rights, costs, the physical accessibility to courts, and language barriers as some of the factors that limited access to the country’s justice system.
For instance, she said most Ghanaians did not thoroughly know their rights, while the right of appeal was only limited to two appeal courts that were situated in Accra.
She said people who wanted appeal then had to travel, sometimes long distances, to access this right, adding that a dearth of magistrates and lawyers in regional and district areas affected the right of access to justice in the country.
She asked for the decentralisation of the alternate dispute resolution programme, an improvement of court infrastructure and the introduction of compulsory community legal service by the GBA and the General Legal Council.
The Commissioner of CHRAJ, Ms Anna Bossman, whose speech was read on her behalf by Mr Samuel Bosompem, expressed appreciation that the country was making progress in building democracy while the public will for constitutional systems was strong.
She, however, stressed the need for more action considering the country’s chequered political progress.
She said although for the past 50 years there had been a sustained effort on the educational front, a lot more Ghanaians were wallowing in illiteracy.
Ms Bossman said education, however, was a major tool for accessing rights and consolidating democratic systems.
The Chairman of the International Advisory Committee of CHRI, Mr Sam Okudzeto, said no right could be handed to any Ghanaian on a silver platter.
“Each of us has to struggle for it,” he said.
Mr Okudzeto explained that although rights were guarded under the constitution, for it to be experienced and enjoyed needed work on the part of all.
The Vice-President of the GBA, Mr Benson Nutsupki, who chaired the function, said the GBA encourage lawyers to do at least three free services in a year as part of their social contribution to the consolidation of the rule of law in the country.
He said an area of concern for the GBA was also the state of the country’s cells and prisons and asked for advocacy and attention on that.
A student of the University of Ghana, Richard Salu, recounted how he had been arrested, brutalised and kept in cells at the Achimota Police Station for contradicting a police man in a trotro who told the passengers not to complain about increases in fares and fuel prices.
Master Salu said he was of the view that it was the right of the passengers to speak out and had told them that, hence his arrest and the subsequent assault on him by the policemen at the Achimota Police Station.
DAILY GRAPHIC, SATURDAY DECEMBER 8, 2007, PAGE 16