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Opinions of Friday, 16 September 2016

Columnist: Abugri, George Sydney

Police prosecutors who make crime suspects walk free

By George Sydney Abugri

Last week, the last batch of 50 out of 300 police prosecutors from all administrative regions of the country, completed a rigorous four-week capacity training programme to improve their skills and efficiency as prosecutors.

Although the training programme cost the United States International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs a colossal US$1 million, it has been worth it in view of the poor performance of many police prosecutors over the years.

Consider the most recent of case of very poor police prosecution of a criminal case. The prosecution’s case as stated by Police Superintendent Kweku Bampah, was a clear-cut one: At 5.20 am on 15 January 2016, at about 0520 hours at Shiashi in Accra, Daniel Abbey, a mason and one other person still at large, attacked a young lady called Joan Sunuh with a knife, and an iron rod while she was on her way to work. The prosecutor said they hit the Ms Sunuh’s head with the iron rod and also stabbed her right arm with the knife before robbing her off a tablet phone and its power bank and a hand bag containing an amount of GHc 100.00, and bolted.

The victim was rushed by sympathisers to a hospital where she was treated and discharged on the same day. A complaint was made at the Airport Police Station.

On January 25, Ms Sunuh saw and identified Abbey who was arrested and detained at the Kotobabi Police Station. He was later transferred to the Airport Police Station where during interrogations, he admitted the offence in a cautioned statement. Last Friday, An Accra Circuit Court struck out the case for want of prosecution and Abbey is now walking a free man and his accomplice remains at large, in spite of all the information available about the crime. In striking out the case, Judge Aboagye Tandoh explained that since Abbey was remanded on 29 January 2016, the prosecution had failed to gather the necessary evidence for the trial to begin. In the event, he had no choice but to set the accused free. The question naturally arises: Why would a police prosecutor spend nine months purportedly gathering evidence in a case like this?

In a similar case not long ago, several persons standing trial for armed robbery walked out free men, after an Accra Circuit Court judge in justified indignation, struck out the case because it had been adjourned an outrageous 50 times. According to Justice Obiri who threw out the case, the investigator and the complainants in the case were not in court whenever the case was called for hearing. Fifty adjournments in the judge’s opinion, could only mean both prosecutors and victims of the crime were no longer interested in pursuing the case.

The case did not spring from anyone’s imagination. It was a robbery with many witnesses and police exhibits. The two accused persons in the case attacked Allied Media Services Cafe at Tunga, a suburb of Dansoman on August 31, 2012 and robbed six patrons of the café of a Dell computer lap top, five mobile phones and a cash sum of Ghc300. There appeared to be more to the case than met the eye. Why, for example, would the complainants who had gone to court to seek redress with the help of police prosecutors lose interest in the case? Establishing who was responsible for the two-year delay in the hearing of an attack on an internet café and robbery of its patrons should in our opinion not be as difficult as working out problems in quantum physics. It was bad enough that a case of violent crime and robbery was thrown out of a court of law for a questionable lack of prosecution but it was even worse that nothing was done about the matter by the police administration, as if it were normal. Something obviously must have gone wrong. In the interest of the integrity of the country’s criminal justice system and in order not give criminals the impression that it is easy to get away with armed robbery in Ghana, the Chief Justice and Inspector General of Police have a responsibility to investigate such cases whenever they occur. Police investigators sometimes pursue criminal investigations with suspiciously restrained enthusiasm, leading to delays in the administration of justice and to speculations that some investigators may be doing so as a result of financial and other inducements. Sometimes the acquittal of crime suspects brings up the question of the appropriateness of the charges preferred against defendants by state prosecutors leading to the acquittals. What is the net effect of the problem of inappropriately-worded criminal charges preferred by prosecutors, on the quality of justice administered by the courts? Innocent persons get punished by the law, otherwise as the experts say is often the more likely case, felons walk scot-free. Criminal charges with the potential to secure a conviction are based on the quality and conclusiveness of evidence investigators make available to prosecutors. What might we expect a judge to do then, when prosecutors repeatedly fail to come up with the evidence need to prosecute a suspect? The complaint that many police detectives often appear {impliedly under inducement} to investigate crimes with suspiciously restrained professional enthusiasm is not new but a former Inspector General of Police confirmed the suspicion when he met with police officers a couple of years ago. He said that these days, police detectives tended to be armchair types who sit on behind desks a lot of the time, waiting for criminal evidence against suspects to come walking through the station door. The police said some officers of the CID generally tended to downplay the importance of regular surveillance, the use of undercover activities and general crime intelligence gathering as critical in fighting crime. At the close of every year, he revealed, about 80 percent of investigations into crimes reported to the police remain uncompleted and designated under police files as “still under investigation.”! Website: www.sydneyabugri.com/Web