Parliament has amended the country’s Criminal Offences Act to remove the mandatory death penalty, potentially sparing more prisoners on death row.
Since the Fourth Republic, the country has had a moratorium on executions, but MPs yesterday decisively agreed to abolish the death penalty as a mandatory sentence for heinous crimes such as murder, piracy and smuggling of gold or diamond.
The courts will now hand down life imprisonment sentences for the most serious crimes, except treasonable offences.
Commenting on the amendment, Alexander Afenyo-Markin, Deputy Majority Leader and MP for Afutu, said Parliament has done the country proud by signing on to the abolition of the death sentence, which is an international human rights position.
According to him, the death penalty has been in the country’s statute book for more than 50 years, which has been a source of concern, and that the provision in the parent law has been repealed by this amendment.
“This is not to say that those who take upon themselves to take the lives of others are being encouraged to do so. What we are saying is that God gives us life and under no circumstance should a person’s life be taken merely because of commission of an offence,” he asserted.
The Criminal Offences (Amendment) Bill 2022 was laid in Parliament on July 25, 2022 by the MP for Madina, Francis-Xavier Sosu, in accordance with Article 106 (1) of the 1992 Constitution.
The death penalty, also referred to as “capital punishment”, is state-sanctioned execution of individuals convicted for specified offences.
In Ghana, the death penalty is imposed after a conviction for murder, attempt to commit murder, genocide, or piracy and smuggling of gold or diamond.
By section 304(3) of the Criminal and Other Offences (Procedure) Act, 1960 (Act 30), execution of the death penalty may either be by hanging or shooting by firing squad.
The imposition of the death penalty as punishment takes its root from the retributive theory of punishment. The theory is premised on the principle of an “eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth”; thus, if a person commits murder, the person must be punished.
This retributive rationale has persuaded some governments and legislators to impose such punitive sentencing.
Presently, however, countries who believe that the death penalty can be defended within a retributive theory of punishment, have taken a position of procedural abolitionism.
That is to say, they oppose capital punishment because of the impossibility of ensuring due process of law and the unacceptably of the inherent flaws in justice which could lead to miscarriages of justice.
In light of this, some human rights activists have argued that the death penalty is too final and irreversible, and this position was canvassed by MPs on the floor of Parliament.
The lawmakers noted that the move to replace death penalty with life imprisonment was in furtherance of the country’s commitment to fulfilling its obligations under international human rights treaties and conventions to which Ghana has ratified.
Among some of these treaties and conventions are the Universal Declaration on Human Rights; International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR); Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment; and African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
Ghana is enjoined under all the international human rights treaties and conventions to take the necessary steps, including undertaking legislative reforms to end all forms of inhuman and cruel actions towards the citizens.
For instance, article 6 of ICCPR provides that every human being has the inherent right to life and the right shall be protected by law. It further provides that no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life.
Article 6(6) of the ICCPR demands that nothing in the treaty shall be invoked “to delay or prevent the abolition of capital punishment”.
The Human Rights Committee has also reminded all State Parties in its recent General Comment by urging all State Parties to take an “irrevocable path towards complete eradication of the death penalty for the foreseeable future”.
By Ernest Kofi Adu, Parliament House