The Office of the Attorney General and Minister of Justice says the country needs to assess the usefulness and efficacy of its laws on decriminalising petty offences through empirical studies.
Mr Alfred Tuah-Yeboah, Deputy Attorney General and Minister of Justice, said an evidence-based approach to law would show whether the country was achieving the true aims of crime control that provided an environment for the peaceful pursuit of personal aspirations and wellbeing of members of society.
Mr Tuah-Yeboah was speaking at the National Conference on the Decriminalisation of Petty Offences in Ghana on the theme: “Decriminalising Petty Offences: The State, the Offender, the Society.”
The Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI), Africa Office in partnership with the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ) organised the event to discuss concrete steps that could be taken to mainstream decriminalization of petty/minor offences which fall under misdemeanors in Ghana into the ongoing justice sector reform programme.
He said the country had no categories of crime known as petty offence.
The Deputy AG said the approach would determine whether resources were focused towards maintaining safety and order.
The Criminal Offences Act, 1960 (Act 29), only classifies offences as either misdemeanours or felonies, while misdemeanours are regarded as less serious, felonies refer to crimes of high seriousness.
Petty offences are those that inhibit the performance of life-sustaining activities such as movement, rest, trade, carrying out livelihood and engaging in hygiene related activities in public places.
Some of these offences are said to be found in Section 296 of Act 29 which criminalises actions such as throwing rubbish in the streets in subsection 1.
Others are committing a nuisance while in town in subsection 2, making loud noise to the annoyance and disturbance of any person in subsection 7 and idling in a public place in subsection 21.
The African Commission’s Principles on decriminalization of petty offences in Africa explains that petty offences do not refer to all the less serious or minor offences.
Mr Tuah-Yeboah said studies had shown that an incarcerated-based response to crime and punishment did not necessarily reduce criminality but might rather propagate cycles of wrongdoing.
He lauded the push to decriminalizing petty offences in Ghana and Africa, adding that “it is Government’s desire to listen to perspectives from various groups and work towards achieving the collective well-being without preference.”
Meanwhile, he said Government had made efforts to reduce the prison population through the “Justice for All Programme”.
Also, the Narcotics Control Commission Act 2020, (Act 1019) has removed the imposition of prison sentences for the personal use of narcotic drugs.
“Plea-bargaining arrangements in criminal cases are also at advance stages of consideration, and a news sentencing bill is undergoing preliminary review towards introducing alternative modes of sentencing such as community services,” he said.