Accra, Oct 10, GNA – The Chief Justice Sophia Akuffo has lauded the POS Foundation for picking up the daunting challenge of producing a Non-Custodial Sentencing Draft Bill.
She said the Foundation came out with the Draft Bill after she had tasked them to do their advocacy on the issue of prison decongestion from the convict and legislative point of view.
“I believe this was a necessary next-step, advancing on the existing ‘Justice for All Programme,’ which has helped to reduce the remand population from 33 per cent in 2007 to 12 per cent by 2017,” Justice Akuffo stated on Wednesday at Multi-Stakeholder Conference on the Non-Custodial Sentencing Policy Zero Draft Bill, in Accra.
“I am also glad that the Ministry of Interior has attached a degree of urgency to the Memorandum on the Draft Bill, forwarded to their relevant offices, and collaborated with the POS Foundation to begin this national stakeholder engagement.
“Such important consultation on the Draft Bill must cover all the regions for public awareness and input; and I cannot overemphasise the importance of reports gathered from such a consultative tour being factored into the formal drafting process by the Office of the Attorney-General,” she added.
The workshop, on the theme: “Consolidating Efforts to Enrich the Zero Draft Non-Custodial Sentencing”, was organised by the POS Foundation in collaboration with the Ministry of the Interior and the Judicial Service of Ghana.
Non-Custodial Sentence or Alternative Sentence refers to a punishment given by a court of law that does not involve a prison term.
Non-Custodial Sentence has various forms such as community service order, probation order, supervision order (parole), drug testing and treatment order.
Justice Akuffo said the title and the presentation of the draft Zero Bill ‘Non-Custodial Sentencing’ gives the impression that the existing sentencing regime under the Criminal and Other Offences (Procedure) Act, 1960 (Act 30) does not provide for ‘Non-Custodial Sentencing’, which was not the case.
She said Section 294 of Act 30 provides as follows: "The following punishments may be inflicted for offences: death, imprisonment, detention, fine, payment of compensation and liability to police supervision.
“Indeed, fine, payment of compensation and liability to police supervision are all forms of non-custodial sentencing under Act 30.”
She said aligned to this, was the idea of ‘Alternative Sentencing Policy’; adding that, Clause 11 of the Constitution of Ghana provides as follows: “No person shall be convicted of a criminal offence unless the offence is defined and the penalty for it is prescribed in a written law”.
The Chief Justice said the Constitution thus provides for specificity, uniformity and certainty in sentencing, such that every offence had a defined sentence or penalty it attracts upon conviction, even though the quantum of the sentence might vary depending on the existing mitigating and or aggravating factors.
She cited for instance that, the sentence for robbery, upon conviction was custodial, and no alternative form of sentence, non-custodial or otherwise, could be allowed.
“I share the idea that imprisonment should be reserved for aggravated offences,” the Chief Justice stated.
“The Bill is therefore, to be seen as adding other forms of sentencing, such as community service orders, to the existing ones, and accordingly should be presented as Criminal and Other Offences (Procedure) (Additional Forms of Sentencing Amendment) Bill to promote means of reducing the use of imprisonment as a form of punishment for non-serious offences.”
Mr Ambrose Dery, Minister of the Interior, in a speech read on his behalf said, as at October 10, there were a total of 15,094 prisoners held in custody against a total capacity of 9,875, with a corresponding general overcrowding rate of 52.9 per cent.
He said the passage of the Non-Custodial Sentencing Bill into law would help decongest the nation’s prisons; and also help reduce the high cost of feeding inmates.
Madam Tove Degnbol, the Ambassador of Denmark to Ghana, said the Zero Draft Bill represents a milestone for Ghana’s commitment to promote access to justice for all, including vulnerable populations.
“The non-custodial sentencing bill, when passed into law, will affirm Ghana’s quest for the protection of all citizen’s rights in accordance with international norms and standards,” she said.
Mr Jonathan Osei-Owusu, Founding Executive Director, POS Foundation said the Non-Custodial Sentencing Bill, 2018, deals with the alternate sentencing powers to provide for the rehabilitation of offenders and to provide for related matters.
He said the Bill, which had been submitted to the Chief Justice for review, was subsequently forwarded to the Attorney-General/Ministry of Justice and finally to the Ministry of the Interior.