The purpose of the bill would be to amend the Criminal and Other Offences (Procedure) Act, 1960 (Act 30) and to provide for plea bargaining in the administration of criminal justice.
Act 30, originally enacted as the Criminal Procedure Code, came into force on January 12, 1961.
Moving the motion for the third reading on the floor of Parliament on Friday, Mr Godfred Yeboah Dame, Attorney-General and the Minister of Justice, told Parliament that, it was the first the plea bargaining arrangements were comprehensively being introduced in Ghana’s criminal jurisprudence.
“Mr Speaker, if indeed we are proceeding on this experiment for the first time as a nation, there is a need for us to tread cautiously.
“Mr Speaker, before the preparation of this bill, there were wide stakeholder consultations and the preponderance of views was to the effect that there ought to be an exception to plea bargaining agreement we ought to strike certain exceptions to plea bargaining negotiations,” he said.
Mr Dame said those exceptions needed to be informed by strong policy considerations of the interest of the nation and the revulsion of the public for certain classes of offences including very violent crimes, sexual offences and offences that generally the nation appalls and that was why violence was involved in elections.
Mr Andrew Amoako Asiamah, the Second Deputy Speaker of Parliament, presiding over the proceedings took a voice vote for the passage of the bill into law by Parliament.
It is for the expectation of the bill, therefore, to amend Act 30 to specifically recognise plea bargaining to apply to all offences except the offences of treason and high treason.
The exclusion of treason and high treason from plea bargaining aligns with clause (3) Of article 140 of the the1992 Constitution which prevents the court from convicting a person being tried for treason or high treason for any offence other than treason or high treason.
The bill also excludes from plea bargaining the offences of rape, defilement, genocide, robbery, kidnapping, attempted murder, abduction, piracy, hijacking and an offence related to public elections.
A memorandum supporting the bill said Act 30 had been in existence for almost six decades and that national and international criminal justice systems had undergone several changes during that period the Act had been in force.
“As society changes and criminal jurisprudence evolves, there is the need to amend Act 30 to meet the needs of the society and to bring it in tune with international best practices.
“One of such evolving best practices is plea bargaining,” it said.
Plea bargaining is a process in the criminal justice system where an accused person relinquishes the right of the accused person to go to full trial in exchange for some other benefit.
Such benefits may include a reduction of the offence charged to a lesser offence, a reduction in punishment for an offence charged or a withdrawal of some of the charges against the accused person, the memorandum clarified.
It said while plea bargaining may result in the withdrawal of charges entirely, in exchange for a promise to assist in the prosecution of others, most plea bargains end in a conviction either for one or more of the offences charged or for a lesser offence for which the accused could have been convicted of at mal.
The memorandum listed the benefits of plea bargaining to include a reduction in the caseloads of the courts and prosecutors, saving the state time and money by avoiding protracted trials, decongestion of the prisons due to reduced sentencing and aiding in the reform of accused persons.
“It also oversees the satisfaction of victims of offences through compensation and restitution in addition to the punishment of the accused,” it said.
“Due to the enormous benefits of plea bargaining, plea bargaining has been adopted as part of the criminal justice system in both civil law and common law jurisdictions,” the memorandum added.
According to the memorandum, some form of plea bargaining already existed in Ghana’s criminal justice system.
It said Subsections (2) and (3) of section 239 of Act 30, for example, provided for some limited plea bargaining in respect of indictable offences while section 35 of the Courts Act, 1993 (Act 459) provided for plea bargaining in respect of offences which resulted in economic loss, harm or damage to the state or an agency of the state.
It added that recent enactments like the Office of the Special Prosecutor Act, 2017 (Act 959) and the Narcotics Control Commission Act, 2020 (Act 1019) also made provision for some form of plea bargaining in respect of corruption and corruption-related offences and narcotic offences respectively.
“The majority of offences under Ghana’s criminal jurisprudence are however generally excluded from plea bargaining,” it said.