Skip to main content arrow-down arrow-tail-right arrow-triangle-right calendar camera compass download email eye facebook flag mail phone pin play send square-right tag twitter youtube badge message

Dexter Johnson v The Republic of Ghana

  • News
  • 6 May 2014

The United Nations Human Rights Committee has held that Ghana’s mandatory death penalty for murder is a violation of the right to life. The Death Penalty Project filed a complaint with the Committee, on behalf of Dexter Johnson, after the Supreme Court of Ghana had refused, earlier, to quash Mr Johnson’s death sentence.

Up until the Supreme Court’s decision in March 2011, there had been general consensus by the courts that an automatic application of the death penalty – that is one without any opportunity for the court to consider the circumstances of a particular offence or offender – was an arbitrary deprivation of life and thus a violation of fundamental human rights.

In expressing its decision, the Committee accepted submissions made by the Death Penalty Project that, although Ghana had not carried out an execution since 1993, it could resume at any time, which previously has occurred in other countries with similar moratoriums. The Committee also noted that the Ghanaian government had not yet voted in favour of the UN General Assembly resolution for a worldwide moratorium of executions.

Ghana is now obliged to commute Mr Johnson’s sentence. The government is also obliged to ensure that there are no similar violations in future, by amending any legislation which currently provides for an automatic sentence of death for some offences, to allow for judicial discretion on punishment.

Ghana is a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, of which Article 6(1) guarantees a right to life. The government had claimed that the death penalty was expressly preserved by its Constitution and, therefore, was not subject to challenge. However, the Committee noted that the Ghanaian Constitution is silent on whether that penalty should be mandatory. In light of this, it fell to be interpreted in line with Article 6(1).

The Committee’s decision follows similar declarations made in respect of other signatories to the Covenant that have legislated for mandatory capital punishment.

Joseph Middleton of Doughty Street Chambers was instructed pro bono by DPP to assist in this matter.

Read the full judgment.

 

Update (28/07/17)

To date, no actions have been taken by Ghana to enforce the decision of the Human Rights Commission. Dexter Johnson remains under a sentence of death which was automatically imposed, the Criminal Code has not yet been amended and the Ghanaian courts continue to sentence people to the mandatory death penalty.

We have now submitted an application to the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights on behalf of Dexter Johnson to attempt to secure remedies in the case.

Latest news

Moving Away From the Death Penalty in Guyana
Read More
Why John Hayes MP is so wrong on the death penalty
Read More
Malaysia could lead way in abolishing death penalty
Read More
Launch of new resource: ‘Sentencing in Capital Cases’
Read More
Juvenile offender released in Belize after Caribbean Court of Justice quashes murder conviction
Read More
DPP returns to Taiwan with Keir Starmer QC MP
Read More
Moving away from the mandatory death penalty
Read More
Keir Starmer visits Taiwan to lobby against death penalty
Read More
New project will seek to build movement for abolition of the death penalty in Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean States
Read More
Simons Muirhead and Burton LLP recognised for its commitment to The Death Penalty Project
Read More
Sajid Javid has betrayed our values by giving way on the death penalty
Read More
Caribbean Court of Justice strikes down mandatory death penalty in Barbados
Read More
Moving away from the death penalty in Zimbabwe - has the time come for change?
Read More
New opinion study shows Zimbabwean public ready to accept death penalty abolition
Read More
All prisoners serving life sentence in Belize to be re-sentenced following major decision of the Caribbean Court of Justice
Read More
Split Decision (Private Eye on the JCPC's judgment in Jay Chandler)
Read More
UK judges uphold death sentence of Trinidad prisoner despite him “more likely than not” having serious mental illness
Read More

Stay up-to-date with our work