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Ghana: Independent oversight urgently needed to increase trust in criminal justice & law enforcement institutions

A Ghanaian police officer on duty in a face mask

Photo by Delali92 on Shutterstock

Michael Boadi

Fundraising Manager, Ghana Integrity Initiative

Ghana has a history of tensions between, on the one hand, the criminal justice and law enforcement institutions and, on the other hand, the public.

In 2018, several judges were caught on tape while collecting bribes from the litigating public. This aggravated the public mistrust of the Ghana’s judiciary and criminal justice institutions, in general.

There’s also significant societal hostility especially towards the Ghana police service. While the tensions led to the police rebranding from a “police force” to “police service”, the name-change did not improve public perceptions. Cases of assault or killings of police officers are common, and even more frequent are reports of police brutality against citizens which, in some instances, have been leading to fatalities.

Public perceptions

To repair the image of the law enforcement agencies, and hold themselves accountable to citizens, the Ghana police service set up the Police Professional Standards Bureau (PPSB) with the mandate to receive complaints from the general public, and to investigate and recommend sanctions. The judicial service in Ghana also established the Public Relations and Complaint Unit (PRCU) to take complaints from aggrieved clients and the public. All these initiatives notwithstanding, citizens of the country are yet to demonstrate any confidence in these institutions.

Transparency International’s 2019 Global Corruption Barometer – Africa survey reveals that public perceptions towards Ghana’s criminal justice and law enforcement institutions have not changed. The police and judiciary were named as the most corrupt institutions in Ghana by 59 and 38 per cent of people, respectively.

Lack of trust in the internal complaint mechanisms has resulted in a growing call for an independent oversight mechanism to receive and resolve complaints from the public about possible misconduct of the criminal justice and law enforcement personnel.

Need for external oversight and accountability

Against this backdrop, greater engagement of civil society organisations in criminal justice and law enforcement processes offers opportunities for cooperation, ultimately leading to greater trust to help the institutions to execute their mandates.

With this in mind, the Ghana Integrity Initiative – Transparency International’s chapter in the country – assessed three criminal justice institutions as a part of Transparency International’s CRIMJUST: Strengthening Criminal Justice along Drug Trafficking Routes project. One of the key recommendations following the assessment is for Ghana to establish an Independent Police Complaints Commission.

The way forward

While it is refreshing to learn that the three criminal justice institutions assessed – the Ghana Police Service, the office of the director of public prosecution and the judiciary – have already created complaint units, they must ensure that these units remain accessible and functional. They should also encourage the public to submit complaints to them safely and without fear of retribution. Once submitted, the complaints must be transparently resolved to inspire confidence.

In the spirit of transparency, these institutions should publish reliable and up-to-date information on the numbers and types of criminal cases, including organised crime cases they have processed on their websites.

Finally, Ghana cannot continue to drag its feet anymore. The government should move quickly to establish an independent complaints commission as the tensions between citizens and law enforcement institutions continue. The consequences of these failures are visible through the attacks on law enforcement personnel, and the administration of instant mob justice against suspected offenders.