Mr.Justice Dotse raised the concern when he addressed law students of the Ghana Institute of Management and Public Administration (GIMPA) at a symposium in Accra last Wednesday.
Organised by Helplaw, a non-governmental organisation dealing with legal issues, in partnership with GIMPA, the symposium was meant to create the platform for more discussion of the country’s criminal justice system.
For many years, the country’s laws did not allow suspects facing certain charges the right to bail.
Section 96 (7) of the Criminal and Other Offences (Procedure) Act, 1960 (Act 30), which was amended in 2002, provided that: “A court shall refuse to grant bail in a case of terrorism, treason, subversion, murder, robbery, offences listed in Parts I and II of the Narcotic Drugs (Control, Enforcements and Sanctions) Law, 1990 (PNDCL 236), and defilement or escape from lawful custody or where a person is being held for extradition to a foreign country.”
But, by a 5-2 majority decision, the Supreme Court, on May 5, 2016, struck out the law on non-bailable offences, describing it as unconstitutional.
The ruling was made in the case of Martin Kpebu v Attorney-General.
As a result of the decision, any court that had jurisdiction over the stated offences had the discretion to either grant bail or not and also set the appropriate bail conditions.
Outlining some of the measures needed to enhance the criminal justice system in the country, Mr Justice Dotse, who is one of the judges tipped to become the next Chief Justice, stressed the need for the Attorney-General and Ministry of Justice to set up a Criminal Justice Reform Commission to deal with the issues.
He said one of the key ways of sanitising the country’s criminal justice system was for urgent measures to be put in place to deal with certain archaic and irrelevant laws that had contributed in making the prisons congested.
“How can a person accused of robbery spend 11 years on remand?” he asked.
In seeking to provide an answer to his own question, Justice Dotse said, “We need to address all the delays in the hearing of criminal cases and make our justice system conform to international standards.”
Currently, he said, the total prison population was 13,164. Out of the number, 1,637 were on remand, but only 226 of the remand prisoners were being heard.
“What happens to the rest of the people on remand?” he asked.
He also emphasised the need for the punishment regimes for criminals to be broadened to allow convicted persons to serve in their communities, instead of in the prisons.
That, Mr Justice Dotse explained, would go a long way to reduce congestion in the prisons, adding: “We need everyone to help make our justice system more efficient.”
The Executive Director and Founder of Helplaw, Mr Eric Aliso, said over the past year, the organisation had held various programmes to address issues relating to the criminal justice system.
He stressed the need for all stakeholders to come on board and help improve the system.