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Opinions of Sunday, 12 October 2014

Columnist: Adofo, Rockson

Is Video Recorded Tape Tenable Evidence in Ghanaian Courts?

In London where I am domiciled, the Metropolitan Police do advise the public, especially those in the Security Industry, to stick to certain specified procedures in their combat against crime or investigations of crimes. They have named the method, “Five tips for solving your own crimes”

1. Keep your own CCTV as evidence. The video produced by the most basic cameras is perfectly acceptable as evidence. Data Protection Act, preventing invasive recording of a neighbour or their property for no apparent reason must be adhered to.

2. Take statements from neighbours. Iain Stanton, a lecturer in policing and criminal justice studies at the University of Cumbria, says that though statements from witnesses to crimes could be admissible in a court, "a number of questions would potentially be raised in respect of comments or explanations given to people with no investigatory experience". But asking simple factual questions like "tell me what happened", "explain to me what you saw", and "can you describe that in more detail?" are useful starting points.

3. Invoke the wisdom of the crowd - there is some wisdom in the crowd. Posting as much information as possible about the crime online can jog people's memories, and spread awareness far and wide.

4. Use the technology available to you. Smartphones remain attractive to thieves. A quarter of us have had our phones stolen from us, according to security company Lookout - but they can be tracked. Make sure you have Find my iPhone, or one of the many rival apps, installed and enabled on your phone. Following an e-trail of your phone's whereabouts can help police locate it quicker.

5. Don't pursue the criminals yourself. Perhaps the most important piece of advice is a simple one - by all means collect and collate evidence, but don't try and confront the criminals responsible yourself. That much can still be left to the police.

From the above directly reproduced five points, let me discuss either the first point or the first two points in relation to the Ghanaian Court’s understanding of tendering in an audio-visual recording as a supportive evidence to arguing out, or pleading, one’s case, before a judge-trial or a jury-trial.

Do Ghanaian courts accept softcopy information distributed on compact discs (CDs) for evidence? If they do, how do they access the information and how do they make the contents available to the litigants, their lawyers and the court audience? For example, if one tenders in court an audio or an audio-visual tape. How do the people get to know the contents of the tape?

In UK where Jury-trial is in operation, the tape will be played to the jury to enable them arrive at a conclusive decision. In Ghana where they operate Judge-trial, how do they play the tape and who has the right to view it? Is it viewed only by the judge, the lawyers, the complainants and the defendants without the audience, or it will never be accepted for evidence, let alone, playing it?

What are a Jury-trial and a Judge-trial, one may ask?

Judge Trial

“One of the best reasons to opt for the judge decided trial is because a judge is not biased and does not let his emotions determine the outcome of the case. All judges are previous attorneys and they understand that they can only look at the facts of the case so they make their determination based on that no matter what their personal feelings are. They may have a serious loathing for either the defendant or the plaintiff, depending on the type of case it is, but still must follow the letter of the law.

Also, because the judges do have a full understanding of the law, they understand fully the terms that are used to make a decision. In a criminal trial, they know what beyond a shadow of doubt means and how they should rule based on this. When it comes to a civil case, the trial is based on a preponderance of evidence which basically means which story is more likely and who made the best case and had the best evidence”.

Trial by Jury

“The reasons for having a jury try a case are the exact opposite of the judge trial but for very good reasons. An emotional jury can actually be good for one who has been severely wronged in a civil case or when the defendant wants to have them feel emotion for the crime. While jurors are always told not to get emotionally involved, they are still human and may use emotion when deliberating no matter what they are told. This can work in one’s favour and is one big reason why many take this option.

While a jury is fully instructed in preponderance of evidence and beyond a reasonable doubt both terms can be taken many ways by the jurors. There is more room for interpretation and what one thinks is beyond a reasonable doubt another may not see it the same way. The same goes for a preponderance of evidence. You may think that the plaintiff had the best evidence and was in the right but another juror could feel just the opposite. This is why it can take a great deal of time for a jury to come back with a verdict”

Can we accept the excuse of a lawyer vehemently opposing the acceptance of a video recorded tape in court for evidence if that is the only credible evidence available? What then would be the importance of the UK installing nearly five million cameras throughout the country all tailored towards proactive surveillance (preventing crime from occurring) or retrospective investigations of committed crimes.

Can the Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) footage be accepted in court as evidence when prosecuting a suspected criminal? In UK and in other civilised societies, the answer is yes; or else, such huge capital outlay for installing cameras would have been meaningless. In Ghana, I do not know the importance of CCTV or other such recorded footages to the court in crime investigation and trial.

Do we accept recorded tapes as evidence in the Ghanaian courts or not? Who can mention the laws for and against accepting such evidences to me please? I will conduct my own investigations to come by the laws but I have no time at the moment.

This publication has been 80% “copy and paste” but for a purpose. It is the foundation of what I intend building on it in the near future.

I dedicate this article to one Mr Joseph Baidoo. He says it is nonsensical for anyone to say that video tapes cannot be accepted in court because modern technology with their camera tricks can facilitate the superimposing of one’s head on another person’s body; imitate their voice in actions that may be thought to have been that of the person whose head is superimposed on another’s body but which may actually not be.

ASEM SEBE!

Rockson Adofo