Ghana retains the death penalty for ordinary crimes including murder, aggravated murder and treason.
Ghana has been a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) since 2000, and ratified the First Optional Protocol to the ICCPR allowing for the right of individual petition in the same year. It has neither signed nor ratified the Second Optional Protocol to the ICCPR aiming at the abolition of the death penalty. Ghana ratified the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights in 1989 and the Protocol to the African Charter on the Establishment of the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights in 2004. Ghana is also a member state of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), of which one of the institutions is the Community Court of Justice. The Court has jurisdiction to determine cases where violation of human rights occur in any member state.
In 2011, the Constitutional Review Commission in Ghana recommended to the President that the death penalty should be abolished in the new Constitution. Any amendment to remove the death penalty will have to be approved by a national referendum. For more information, please click here.
Dexter Johnson v Republic, Supreme Court of Ghana (Crim. Appeal J3/3/2010)
As members of the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office Pro Bono Panel, we provide legal assistance to British nationals facing the death penalty overseas. In 2008, we agreed to represent Dexter Johnson, a British national convicted of murder and sentenced to death in Ghana. We assisted local counsel, Kwabla Senanu in the preparation of an appeal against conviction and sentence to the Court of Appeal which was dismissed. We then assisted in a further appeal to the Supreme Court, but regrettably, in March 2011, the Supreme Court of Ghana dismissed Mr. Johnson’s appeal against his conviction and sentence.
In the minority dissenting judgment, Supreme Court judge Dr. S.K.Date-Bahj S.C. opined that the imposition of a mandatory death sentence is arbitrary because the offence of murder covers a broad spectrum. Furthermore, he held that the inability of trial judges to exercise a discretion to make the punishment fit the crime in cases of murder infringes the right of the accused to a fair trial.
In April 2011, we prepared and submitted a clemency petition to the President of Ghana on behalf of Mr. Johnson and in July 2011, we submitted an application to the United Nations Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) on behalf of Mr Johnson, challenging the mandatory aspect of the death penalty in Ghana as a violation of the ICCPR. For more information on the UNHRC application, click here.
In 2010, the President of Ghana constituted and inaugurated a nine-member Constitutional Review Commission to identify aspects of the Constitution that need to be retained and further developed; amended; or repealed. One of the changes recommended was the abolition of the death penalty. The constitutional review exercise presented an opportunity for human rights advocates and other bodies to initiate activities to support the abolition of the death penalty. In 2011, we were approached by the Human Rights Advocacy Centre (HRAC) who requested our assistance with the consultation process. Working with Professor Roger Hood (a leading expert on the death penalty) and Joseph Middleton from Doughty Street Chambers, we prepared a Memorandum on the death penalty which the HRAC presented to the Commission.
In July 2012, the Government issued a White Paper on the Constitutional Review Report, supporting the recommendation of the Constitutional Review Commission that the death penalty should be abolished in Ghana and be replaced with life imprisonment. As we understand from the HRAC, the Memorandum was an important factor in bringing about the recent developments.
As the death penalty is an entrenched provision in the Constitution of Ghana there will need to be a referendum on the issues and we await further direction from the Government on the next steps.