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Opinions of Saturday, 28 July 2007

Columnist: Obeng, Mensah Richard

Thief! Thief!! Thief!! Who is first to cast his stone?

Today in the Ghanaian society, it is not unusual for some members of the public to cast stones at suspected criminals upon their arrest. Unfortunately, such a victim may be lynched. This phenomenon has become known as mob action or vigilantism. Dear reader let us undertake pensive thinking by meditating on Luke 8:1-11.

Early the next morning, Jesus went back to the Temple. All the people gathered round him, and he sat down and began to teach.

The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman who has been caught committing adultery, and they made her stand before them all. “Teacher”, they said to Jesus, “this woman was caught in the very act of adultery. In our Law, Moses commanded that such a woman must be stoned to death. Now, what do you say?”

And Jesus said to them, “whichever one of you has committed no sin may throw the first stone at her”

When they heard this, they all left, one by one, the older ones first. Jesus was left alone, with the woman still standing the. Jesus asked the woman “where are they? Is there no one left to condemn you?” “No one, Sir’ she answeresd.Well, then”, said Jesus, “I do not condemn you either”.

Jesus asked a very important and insightful question, is there no one left to condemn you?

According to rules of natural justice, no man should be condemned unheard. This means that whenever a person is arrested or restricted, there must be due inquiry. The accused person must have notice of what he is accused of. He must have an opportunity of being heard, and the decision must be honestly arrived at after he had a full opportunity of being heard.

A person is said to suffer punishment whenever she is legally deprived of the normal rights of a citizen on the ground that she has violated a rule of law. This violation must have been established by trial according to due process of the law. Besides, the deprivation must have been carried out by recognized legal authorities of the state. The law must also state clearly in writing both the offence and the attached penalty. Finally, the courts must construe such written laws (which were in the books prior to the offence) strictly.

Article 15 of our Constitution prohibits violation against human dignity. It states that no person shall, whether or not he is arrested, restricted or detained, be subjected to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment or any other condition that detracts or is likely to detract from his dignity and worth as a human being. This means that mob action vigilantism is an offence under our laws.

Fellow Ghanaians, let us not forget that mob action is a wrong action which brings wrong results. How do you feel when you kill a suspected criminal who later turns to be innocent? Remember that anyone who intentionally kills is a murderer. Is it right for that person also to be lynched by others?

Over the years, there have been a lot on innovations, still going on, in our justice system. They include, but are not limited to, the introduction of the “fast-track” automated courts (in 2001), the introduction of the new High Court Civil Procedure Rules (in 2004) and the creation of new Commercial Court Division of the High Court (in 2005). Besides, there has been the promotion of the Alternative Dispute Resolution Mechanism (A.D.R.M) to divert cases from the courts. In addition, there has now been the establishment of the new Motor-Traffic Court in Accra. Plans are also far advanced to replicate this throughout the country. Lastly, our Criminal Procedure Code 1960 (Act 30) was recently revised as the Criminal and other Offences (Procedure) Act, 1960 to do away with some of the unnecessary delays in our procedure for vindicating the law.

It is very imperative for us to understand that the needed change and development that is being effected in our justice system is a process, not an event. After all, Rome was built in a day.


Obeng Mensah Richard,
Faculty of Law, KNUST;
Center for Human Rights and Advanced Legal Research (CHRALER), Kumasi.

Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.