The Ghana Prisons Service (GPS) has appealed to the Chief Justice and the entire Judiciary to consider making offenders of minor cases pay fines, instead of custodial sentence.
This, according the Deputy Director of Prisons (DDP) Robin K. Asamoah Fenning, the Brong-Ahafo Regional Commander, would make way for “personal space” in the country’s prisons, and address the problem overcrowding at the prisons.
The Regional Prison Commander made the appeal in a speech read for him at the official opening of the 2018 Criminal Assizes in Sunyani on Monday.
Criminal Assizes is the period set aside to try criminal cases such as murder, manslaughter and other serious cases often referred to as indictable offenses stipulated in Article 125 (1) and (2) of the 1992 constitution.
Article 125 (1) states that “Justice emanates from the people and shall be administered in the name of the Republic by the Judiciary which shall be independent and subject to only this constitution”.
“Citizens may exercise popular participation in the administration of Justice through the institution of public and customary tribunal and the jury and assessor system”.
Jurors or Jury in a particular case is made up of seven men and women of the community, who should not be lawyers or learned in the law.
They sit with a Judge to hear cases and at the end of the trial the Judge sums up evidence and the applicable law, and the Jury decide the guilt or otherwise of the accused.
DDP Fenning said “over-stayed remands” remained another daunting challenge which caused congestion in the prisons.
“Over-stayed remands” are remand prisoners whose warrants have expired and are supposed to be taken back to Court.
Instances are murder cases which take long gestation period for investigation, preliminary hearing at lower Courts before full trial at the High Court, DDP Fenning cited, noting that “remand prisoners warrants are not renewed fortnightly as expected”.
The Regional Prisons commander expressed discomfort with the daily feeding rate of an inmate which currently stands at GHC1.80 and appealed to the government for an increase.
Justice Patrick Baayeh, the Supervising High Court Judge in Sunyani, said a Judge had no discretion in a jury system of trial and admonished jurors to endeavour not to discuss cases with members of the public.
“It is a serious offence for a juror to discuss a case on which he or she is sitting with an outsider”, he said.
In times of criminal assizes, Justice Baayeh said other cases were relegated to the background and indictable offences “take pride of place and are given preferences as jury trials are expensive to the state”.
He said the “Justice for all programme has eased the burden a little bit but that is not to say it is without its problems”.
“Some of the cases dealt with by Justice for all programme end up granting bail to suspects, some of whom jump bail or are unable to secure the sureties to sign the bail bond for them to be released”, Justice Baayeh said.