Administration of Juvenile Justice In Ghana: The need for a Comprehensive Juvenile Justice Policy

I: Why Juvenile Justice

The Commonwealth Human Right Initiative (CHRI), established in 1987 by a group of Commonwealth professional Associations “is an independent, non-partisan, international non-governmental organization, mandated to ensure the practical realization of human rights in the countries of the Commonwealth” (Baerg and Hoffmann, 2011). CHRI which has its headquarters in New Delhi, India – with offices in London, UK, and Accra, Ghana – seeks to “promote awareness of and adherence to the Commonwealth Harare Principles, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other internationally recognized human rights instruments as well as domestic instruments supporting human rights in Commonwealth member states” (Baerg and Hoffmann, 2011). Baerg and Hoffmann (2011) wrote, access to justice is the cornerstone for “practical realization of human rights” – and CHRI has therefore made it one of its key program areas.

In line with this objective, the CHRI Africa office in 2010 sponsored two interns: Ms. Corinne Baerg and Ms. Stephanie Hoffmann to undertake a study: Juvenile Justice in Ghana: A study to assess the Status of Juvenile Justice in Ghana published in 2011. The study was to “access the effectiveness of the juvenile justice system in Ghana or rather how the justice system in Ghana works for juveniles” (Baerg and Hoffmann, 2011). Children and young adults are very important members of every nation, because they constitute the future leaders. However, Children in conflict with the law or juveniles are vulnerable and less privilege members of every society. Section 1(1) of Ghana’s Juvenile Justice Act which was promulgated in 2003 “to provide a juvenile justice system, to protect the rights of juveniles, ensure an appropriate and individuals response to juvenile offenders, provide for young offenders and for connected purposes” defines a juvenile as “a person under eighteen years who is in conflict with the law.”

Despite this fact, less attention has been given to juvenile justice administration in Ghana. Juvenile justice administration has seen little changes, in policy and in practical realization of human rights of the young offender. This has been the case since colonial British administration through the turbulent military regimes in 1970s and 1980s, up to these days of multiparty democracy. This is why the Baerg and Hoffmann’s study, which aimed to assess “Ghana’s compliance in law and in practice with the relevant international and regional human rights instruments that it has ratified” (2011) is very crucial for this review. They reported that the administration of juvenile justice in Ghana is beleaguered with many problems.

II: Overview of Problems Affecting the Administration of Juvenile Justice in Ghana

First, the study mentioned “lack of will on behalf of the government to improve the juvenile justice system” (Baerg and Hoffmann, 2011). This general lack of interest was attributed to the absence of a particular department charged with the responsibility of ensuring effective administration of juvenile justice system. According to Baerg and Hoffmann, the juvenile justice system spreads across many departments and therefore no individual “feels responsible for the inefficiencies or success of the juvenile justice system” (2011). Resulting in an overall inefficient juvenile justice system, which is a reflection of the entire justice system in the country. There are problems with scheduling and in most cases the relevant parties do not attend court proceedings. There are no trained and competent court officers to assist in the court proceedings, Baerg and Hoffmann (2011) reported.

Second, there are no trained police personnel to handle juvenile cases. Upon arrest of a juvenile the study noted that police personnel mostly are unaware of the existing laws and procedures relating to children in conflict with the law, thereby end up infracting these laws. Juveniles are lumped together with adults in cells; they are not processed for court within the 48-hour stipulation or even offered bail.

Third, publicly funded legal aid services specifically for the young offender are hard to come by in the country. In their study, Baerg and Hoffmann (2011) found that the available government sponsored legal aid service does no extend to juveniles. Also, that though some non-governmental organizations may be willing to sponsor legal representation for young offenders, the young offenders are usually unaware of such opportunities.

Fourth, as a microcosm of the entire justice system in the country, the administration of juvenile justice is financially anemic. The various departments that handle juvenile issues dedicate an insignificant part of their overall budget to juvenile cases.

Additionally, as already hinted above, no particular department focuses on the administration of juvenile justice. More so, there is no effective communication between the many departments, agencies and ministries that deal with juvenile justice in Ghana. In Ghana, the children’s Act mandates the Department of Social Welfare to “oversee the administration of juvenile justice and the protection of children in general” (Baerg and Hoffmann, 2011). The department, however, is much concerned with general welfare of children and other vulnerable members of the Ghanaian society to the neglect of the children conflict with the law. Nonetheless, the Ministry of Women and Children’s Affair, the Ministry of Interior, the Attorney General’s Office and the Domestic Violence and Victims Support Unit (DOVVSU) of Ghana Police Service are all involved in one way or other with the administration of juvenile justice. But none of these departments or agencies assumes total responsibility of the administration of juvenile justice in the country.

According to the CHRI study, the absence of a particular department to effectively administer juvenile justice is, probably, because the Juvenile Justice Act failed to mandate any agency or department with such responsibility. Consequently, Baerg and Hoffmann (2011) noted lack of accountability for the administration of juvenile justice and lamented the possibility that most of the concerns raised in its report may not be given the needed attention.

The problem with lack of coordination among the various departments that deal with juvenile justice issues is epitomized in the fact that the supposed Director of Juvenile Justice Administration is “finding it difficult to stay on top of the day-to-day working of the juvenile justice system since juvenile matters are scattered among various government departments, each falling under a different ministry” (Baerg and Hoffmann, 2011).

Further and most importantly, Ghana has no comprehensive policy on juvenile justice. Although Ghana has a Criminal Procedure Code Act 30 of 1960, which provided for children in conflict with the law to be treated differently from the adult, yet the Act has major shortcomings. For instance, part III of the Code, which elucidates a new system of punishment “encourages juveniles to inflate their ages to be treated as adults in the criminal justice system” (Osafo, 2007). How can an Act promulgated by a competent parliament promote age misrepresentation in the courts of the land? Ghana’s Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ) that “Exists to enhance the scale of good governance, democracy, integrity, peace and social development by promoting, protecting and enforcing fundamental human rights and freedoms and administrative justice for all persons in Ghana” (Ghana: CHRAG): reported that many juveniles are perishing in adult prisons in the country due to this unfortunate provision in the criminal procedure code.

The parliament of Ghana therefore enacted the Children’s Act, 1998 and the Juvenile Justice Act, 2003 to ratify some of these anomalies in the criminal justice Code of 1960. Unfortunately, the children Act, 1998 and the juvenile justice Act 2003 are themselves inadequate as they have gaps that hinder effective administration of juvenile justice in Ghana. For instance, section 17(4) of the Juvenile Justice Act, 2003 stipulates: “A charge against a juvenile for an offence if committed by an adult would be punishable by death shall be heard by a court of summary jurisdiction other than a juvenile court.” Murder is a first-degree felony. Article 19 of Ghana’s 1992 constitution required it to be tried by a judge and jury. Thus, the provision of the Act, 2003 contradicts this constitutional requirement. “Can a murder case be tried summarily?” The late Justice Osafo Sampong, justice of the Court of Appeal queried.

In addition to the outlined inadequacies in the children Act 1998 and juvenile justice Act 2003, Baerg and Hoffmann (2011) bemoaned lack of enforcement of these regulations by the courts and the police. In 2011, the media reported that a Kumasi circuit court judge issued a custodial sentence to a “19-year young person who admitted to having stolen a cellular phone belonging to the driver of an official of the state, with conditions of hard labor” (Lawson, 2011). It is such blatant disregard to the laws of the land that prompted a well known advocate for penal reforms that promotes alternatives to custodial sentencing in Ghana, Marcus-Chris Lawson to ask: “if Ghana has any sentencing guidelines as a professional framework within which the magistrates and judges have to operate so as to ensure fairness in sentencing, and promote equality before the law?”

Moreover, Research evidence shows that juvenile delinquency is increasing at an alarming rate in Ghana especially in the major urban cities of Accra and Kumasi. Most of these delinquents are repeated offenders who turn to master criminal acts in prisons rather than being reformed. Furthermore, Consortium for Street Children (CSC) a “leading international network dedicated to advocating, promoting and campaigning for the rights of street-involved children” reported that a ‘headcount’ of street children and young mothers in the Accra metropolitan area, the capital of Ghana, estimated that there are about 21,140 street children, 7,170 street mothers under the age of 20, and 14050 urban poor children, who are at the high risk of delinquent behaviors (CSC; Street Children Statistics, 2010).

The cumulative effects of these challenges do obstruct the effective administration of juvenile justice in Ghana. The absence of a comprehensive juvenile justice policy in Ghana, however, accounts for the lack of coordination among the various departments and professionals administering juvenile justice in the country as noted by the CHRI report. Ghana has a Criminal Procedure Code, 1960, children Act 1998 and juvenile justice Act, 2003, other pieces of stand-alone regulations that affect the administration of juvenile justice. But there is no single comprehensive juvenile justice policy to provide guidelines for the enforcement of these Acts of parliament in the administration of juvenile justice.

It is without doubt that a comprehensive juvenile justice policy would help streamline the sector. The policy would designate a particular department for the administration of juvenile justice in the country. It would also mend the gaps in the Act whiles ensuring effective implementations of its mandates. The purpose of this article therefore is to call upon the government of Ghana and civil society, and to initiate a debate, which will hopefully culminate into a juvenile justice policy in the country.

In the mean time, since there is no Juvenile Justice Department, the Ministry of Women and Children Affairs and/or the DSW should take it upon themselves to formulate a Juvenile Justice Policy. Although, the CHRI report revealed that UNICEF is currently working on such a policy, it however, maintained that is been over 7 years, since the last assessment of the juvenile justice sector was completed by UNICEF and DSW. Hence, more research on juvenile justice system is necessary before a policy could be created.

To end this discussion, the parliament of Ghana is encouraged to repeal the part II the Criminal Procedure Code and amend section 17(4) of the Justice Act. And initiate novel legislations in order to provide meaningful and effective juvenile justice system in the country. Children and young persons are the future of every society. It is imperative on every society and government for that matter to provide young offenders with necessary skills and tools to enable them participate socially, economically and politically to the development of their communities. It is only a youth justice system that balances welfare with justice and ensure that the welfare of the young offender is the paramount objective of the punitive mechanism, which will transform the juvenile.

Baa-Ang, Idris Osman, MA, Urban Policy and Public Administration: City University of New York. [email protected]