Divergence Between Laws and Reality

Ghana prison

Prior to living in Ghana, I hardly appreciated what “rule of law” meant.  Though the US system is hardly perfect,  the police and courts must follow set procedures for charging and trying someone.

In Ghana, someone can go to the police and accuse you of murder, rape, or armed robbery.  All of these crimes do not allow a person to be let out on bail.

This person can provide a bribe which will motivate the police to act on his behalf.  The police may or may not investigate the matter then arrest the suspect and put him behind bars (or “in cells”).  After the suspect has been arrested, the police can take months before formally charging the suspect.  I have heard of people awaiting to be charged for 5+ months.  Even if you are charged, you could be waiting — in one case — 14 years for trial to commence.  The case was eventually dismissed because the evidence was not sufficient for conviction.

In a country where the police do not even have police cars nor fuel to properly investigate a matter, the likelihood of receiving a fair investigation by the police is severely limited.  The police seem content to do a half-hearted investigation based on the accuser’s claims.

Though the law places the burden of proof on the prosecution to prove beyond a reasonable doubt, the process requires the accused to marshal the resources – funds, attorneys – to navigate through the process.  Even for those who are granted bail — for many Ghanaians who are struggling to get by — they cannot meet these terms and are stuck in jail until trial.  While they wait in jail, they have to pay for their own food and toiletries.

Amnesty International has decried the deplorable conditions of Ghana’s jails.  Conditions are overcrowded and infrastructure is severely limited.  The State does not provide any care beyond four walls, facilities for a shower, and a toilet.  Ken Kuranchie, a journalist recently held for 10 days for contempt of court, describes his experience at Nsawam Medium Security Prison.

Many foreigners assume that they will never be accused of a crime.  They are not aware of the laws nor the protections they may have under the law.  Furthermore, they may not be prepared to find good counsel to defend them in a court action.

Fortunately, there is a Human Rights High Court that deals with infringements of a Ghanaian’s human rights.  Unfortunately, in order to present your case in this court, you must wait for the State to abuse your human rights.

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