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Regional News of Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Source: Ivan Heathcote-Fumador/Ultimate Radio/Kumasi

Review archaic penal codes to curtail harsh sentences

The President of the Ashanti Regional branch of the Ghana Bar Association, lawyer Yaw Boafo has reiterated the need for Ghana to review its over fifty year old penal code to meet the exigencies of an evolved society.

According to lawyer Yaw Boafo, the country cannot continue to use the same Criminal Offenses Act and the criminal procedure codes which were passed in the 1960s for present day Ghana.

His suggestion comes on the heels of recent public reactions that have sought to question the propriety or otherwise of some thorny judgments handed down to some persons found to have offended the laws.

The most recent of it, which drew considerable reactions among the public particularly on news portals and on social media, was the sentencing of a 20year old boy to 45 years in jail with hard labor for stealing a mobile phone and seventy cedis.

The convict, with his accomplice who is on the run, demanded GH¢1.00 from their victim to buy Indian hemp. When he declined, they pulled a knife on him, searched his pockets and took the mobile phone and the money.

He pleaded guilty to two counts of conspiracy and robbery and was convicted on his own plea by a Kumasi Circuit court. In a related incident, a farmer who stole cassava worth 50 cedis was also sentenced by an Akim Swedru circuit court to ten years imprisonment with hard labor.

Whiles some have commended the verdicts as worthy punishment, others argue the sentences are harsh, excessive and a waste of productive lives of the youth.

But speaking to Ultimate Radio on these reactions, the President of the Ashanti Regional Bar Association indicated that the public sentiments only points to a glaring fact that “society has changed and so we need a complete overhaul and review of the whole penal system.”

He admitted that although judges are to carry out judgment without extremities, the public may be right, arguing that some judges get excessive in handing down sentences.

“I must admit that some of the judges are known to be very excessive in the circumstances and sometimes too, I think it is the misconception of the public. For instance, this issue of the mobile phone, you will realize that he committed the crime as part of an armed robbery and the value of the item stolen doesn’t really matter here “he emphasized.

He explained that, for issues of armed robbery, sentences were quite harsher and longer even though he admitted that handing a twenty year old a forty year jail term was rather on the high side.

He, however, disclosed that the public outcry against certain offenses as well as philosophical beliefs and personal experiences of judges, sometimes influence the rulings they arrive at.

“Judges are humans, and for instance if you consider a judge who has been a victim of armed robbery or whose daughter has been raped before, he could be harsh in the kind of judgment he will hand to an offender of a similar crime who is brought before him even though he doesn’t have to.”

He added that, “some judges are influenced by philosophies, some others by jurisprudence and others who believe in punishment as a tool to deal with crime and even in the US and the UK, there are judges who are labeled as conservative judges and liberal judges.”

Lawyer Boafo, however, expressed concern about the alarming rate at which the youth and first time offenders are being jailed in the country and stated that the rate of recidivism was high.

He opined that the nation is losing bright potential future leaders to wasted years of jail terms and suggested that “a national debate should be held to consider more liberal forms of sentencing including the community service and the parole system in other jurisdictions”.