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General News of Monday, 31 May 2021

Source: Sefakor Fekpe, Contributor

Court of Appeal judge makes case for scrapping of laws targeting the poor

Justice of the Court of Appeal, Sophia Rosetta Bernasko-Essah Justice of the Court of Appeal, Sophia Rosetta Bernasko-Essah

A Justice of the Court of Appeal, Her Ladyship Sophia Rosetta Bernasko-Essah, is appalled at the rate at which individuals get imprisoned due to lack of economic empowerments and therefore calling for the decriminalization of vagrancy laws.

She stated that, it is in inhumane and breaches the tenets of fairness to punish someone because of poverty.

Vagrants are poor people who get jailed for minor offences as they could not pay a fine or afford to engage a lawyer when they flout the laws.

“It’s against human and societal rights."

Justice Sophia Rosetta Bernasko-Essah's call came on the back of an advocacy project dubbed ‘Decriminalizing Vagrancy Laws and Advocacy’ (DVLA) in Accra.

She stated that the project will go a long way to help judges to be circumspect with the kind of sentences meted out to vagrants.

“This is a very laudable project because when we(judges) are sensitized about this concept of vagrancy and the effects of the sentence we impose on certain persons, then we are better able to exercise our discretion positively,” she added.

While supporting the proposal for alternative sentencing system different from the one way custodial punishment in Ghana, Her Ladyship Sophia Rosetta Bernasko-Essah appealed to all stakeholders in the justice delivery system to embrace the DVLA the project.

She added that it is sometimes no fault of vagrants to break by-laws but it's usually due to their economic status.

“If society has somehow played a part in making people vagrants, then it behoves on all of us to play our parts to make sure that these less privileged persons do not suffer,” the Court of Appeal Justice advised.

Meanwhile, Her Ladyship Sophia Rosetta Bernasko-Essah who represented the Chief Justice, Kwasi Anin-Yeboah expressed the Judiciary's readiness to take the issues into consideration in the delivery of justice in Ghana.

“I will take all that I have imbibed here, the concerns and the various aspect of the vagrancy laws and communicate it to the Chief Justice and other judicial authorities so that we are made aware of it and sensitized about it to the extent that we do not make others suffer as a result of a kind of sentence we pose,” she added.

Ratification Of Vagrancy Laws

Meanwhile the Executive Director of Crime Check Foundation, Ibrahim Oppong-Kwarteng further refreshed the memories of law enforcers on a ruling by the African Court on Human and People’s Rights which spelt out that vagrancy laws that target mainly the poor breaches the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights and other international Human Rights Instruments that Ghana has ratified.

Implementation Of Project

He revealed the Decriminalizing Vagrancy Laws And Advocacy project aims to promote human rights and the general well-being of citizens.

He however stated that the project is not to incite vagrants against Metropolitan, Municipal and District Assemblies (MMDAs) but to drastically minimise the harsh punishments emanating from these bye-laws on ordinary citizens.

“Some of the MMDAs we have engaged have admitted the need to review some of their laws. We appeal to them to caution their task force to desist from assaulting these vagrants,” he said.

Why The DVLA Project?

The increasing number of inmates and their inhumane living conditions in Ghana’s prisons, inspired Crime Check Foundation (CCF) to partner with the Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA) as the main funder to advocate the annulment of vagrancy laws.

The project's overall target is to decriminalize poverty; thus with the social media hashtag "stop criminalizing poverty."

Project Duration And Target Places

The DVLA project will be implemented in 12 metropolitan assemblies in three regions: Greater Accra, Ashanti, and Central within 12 months.

“We have begun with the mapping, and we are engaging with the various district assemblies in the selected regions and the leadership of vagrants," Mr. Oppong Kwarteng said.

It will sensitize 1200 vagrants about their rights and responsibilities to prevent possible misunderstandings with the assemblies.

“In order not to seem as we are inciting vagrants against the district assemblies and the central government, we will also educate them about their duties as patriotic citizens,” he added.

Monitoring and Evaluation

The Crime Check Foundation said the sensitisation will be followed by the creation of a contact centre to monitor its progress and effectiveness.

It added that this will help address the concerns of vagrants.

The project which started in May 2021, will end in May 2022.