It is unfair to punish people because of poverty – Court of Appeal Judge
A justice of the Court of Appeal, Her Ladyship Sophia Rosetta Bernasko-Essah, has made a case for the scrapping of vagrancy laws.
Oftentimes, vagrants are unable to pay fines or afford the services of a lawyer when they flout laws and end up being jailed for minor offences.
According to Justice Bernasko-Essah, it violates the tenets of fairness to punish someone based on their economic status.
“It’s against human and societal rights,” she insisted.
Speaking at the launch of an advocacy project dubbed ‘Decriminalizing vagrancy laws’ in Accra on Friday, May 28, 2021, the Court of Appeal judge reiterated the importance of the initiative.
“This is a very laudable project because when we(judges) are sensitized about this concept of vagrancy and the effects of the sentence we impose on certain persons, then we are better able to exercise our discretion positively,” she said.
Stressing the need to have alternative sentencing regimes, the judge called on all relevant stakeholders in the justice delivery system to support the project.
“If society has somehow played a part in making people vagrants, then it behoves on all of us to play our parts to make sure that these less privileged persons do not suffer,” she admonished.
She committed to the readiness of the Judical Service to support the project.
“I will take all that I have imbibed here, the concerns and the various aspect of the vagrancy laws and communicate it to the Chief Justice and other judicial authorities so that we are made aware of it and sensitized about it to the extent that we do not make others suffer as a result of a kind of sentence we pose,” she assured.
About the Project
With the increasing number of inmates in Ghana’s prisons, crime prevention organization Crime Check Foundation (CCF) has partnered with the Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA) to advocate the annulment of vagrancy laws.
The project seeks to decriminalize poverty.
The one-year project will be rolled out in 12 metropolitan assemblies in three regions: Greater Accra, Ashanti, and Central.
“We have begun with the mapping, and we are engaging with the various district assemblies in the selected regions and the leadership of vagrants”.
The project will sensitize 1200 vagrants about their rights and responsibilities to prevent any misunderstandings with the assemblies.
“In order not to seem as we are inciting vagrants against the district assemblies and the central government, we will also educate them about their duties as patriotic citizens,” Executive Director of Crime Check Foundation, Ibrahim Oppong Kwarteng said.
Monitoring and Evaluation
To monitor the progress and effectiveness of the project, a contact centre will be created after the sensitization to address the concerns of vagrants at the partnering organization, Crime Check Foundation.
The project will run from May 2021 to May 2022.