Couching or interpreting even criminal law in the positive to procure willing and not forced obedience can be a more effective means of ensuring an orderly law-abiding society. It should produce a situation where citizens almost naturally feel a patriotic obligation to pay their taxes, not litter etc as they feel a personal responsibility to develop their country. It would appear the rebellious instincts are quickened when people feel the law is implemented in a coercive fashion without a human face, and that the ultimate end of a law is to exact penal sanction rather than lovingly correct and reform.
It may be the case that some people seem wired in a way that compulsion and threat of corporal punishment get them comporting and conducting themselves in compliance with law. But it is also true that many laws in Ghana are not enforced at all because there is no incentive or they simply don’t make sense. There is some outrage on social media that a Koforidua Magistrate Court sent a barber to jail for two months and in hard labour for failing to pay a fine of 600 cedis slapped on him after he pleaded guilty to stealing plantain. Ghanaians have expressed anger at similar or even harsher sentences for acts of petty offences thought mostly to be driven by hunger and abject poverty.
Some judges may be unkind, but sometimes it is the law and not the judge that is to blame. We cry about over-crowded prisons and the documentary Locked and Forgotten shocked us to some action. But isn’t it surprising we can’t find money to implement a non-custodial sentencing regime we have long figured out is the way to go? The law enjoins that criminal law should be interpreted benevolently, but law enforcers, even judges and lawyers rarely remember that.
The police, generally, are wired to treat even those suspected of petty offences with a mind to getting them thrown into jail. The manner of arrest and the treatment thereafter including using bail as punishment contrary to law, explains this point. The ordinary citizen picked up as a suspect isn’t properly assisted in the process. They exact confession statements under threat of refusing bail etc, and they may mislead a suspect to self-incriminate or deceive them to plead guilty even where they are innocent.
Some demand money for bail when bail ought to be free. They seize phones and other gadgets of suspects and forcible access the contents when they are, generally, not allowed to do so except under a warrant or order by a court granting them permission.
Those operating in the name of national security and BNI are guilty of abusing suspects and their rights. If a body were set up and it invited victims, providing protection for them, this country would wail, cry, be nauseated and utterly embarrassed at disclosures of the horror, harrowing and lawless treatments many suspects have received at these institutions.
I dare some civil society to take up the challenge if you think veteran broadcaster Kwame Sefa Kayi was exaggerating when he spoke about the excesses, sheer impunity and abuse of state power by some operatives of these institutions.
Let the law and its enforcers be firm, acting lawfully and showing love and respect to citizens, for in so doing, the country will reap a harvest of better and willing law-abiding citizens promoting development.
Samson Lardy ANYENINI
July 6, 2019