I have been wondering, when there is a miscarriage of justice and an innocent person ends up serving a prison sentence, what happens to the state officials through whose negligence the injustice occurred?
Furthermore, the national Constitution recognises the need to compensate people wrongfully convicted, but how often does that happen?
I don’t recall ever hearing of any ‘law enforcement officer’ being held accountable for unprofessional attitude or impunity, which resulted in an innocent person being jailed.
Two contrasting facets of the judiciary system have been memorably demonstrated; firstly, by the case of the audacious Interchange ‘chop-bar’ entrepreneurs, a father and daughter, who chose to operate, of all ventures, a fufuo eatery on the pavement of the newly constructed, national showpiece Pokuase Interchange.
Secondly, by disturbing revelations from a July interview on Angel TV.
Doubtless, after the arrest on August 25, 2021, of the Interchange duo, people had been wondering about the sentence for such an unprecedented act of indiscipline, albeit with somewhat comic undertones.
The following is a summary of a Daily Guide report on August 30:
Two persons, Comfort Dartey, 32, and her father Kwame Addo, 60, who were arrested recently for operating a chop bar under the Pokuase Interchange have been convicted to a fine of GH¢420 by a Kaneshie District Court in Accra.
Dartey, charged with causing a public nuisance, was fined GH¢120.00 by Ms. Ama Adomako Kwakye, or in default go to jail for a week in hard labour.
Her father was charged with offensive conduct and fined GH¢300 or serve a prison term of two weeks. Both were also ordered to sign a bond to be of good behaviour for one year.
The two had pleaded guilty to the charges, expressed remorse and pleaded for leniency.
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THE AMA FORSON STORY
The second, but earlier example, in 2016, was about a banku seller, Ama Forson, then aged 64, accused of selling alcohol infused with marijuana/cannabis/weed/'wee' (Indian hemp); and sentenced to 11 years imprisonment.
However, in 2020, after serving four years, she regained her freedom through the Justice for All Programme, and with the support of a charitable group, the POS ('Perfect of Sentiments') Foundation.
The Foundation, is a human rights organisation, founded by Mr Jonathan Osei Owusu.
Further facts emerged in an interview with Ms Forson conducted by Angel TV in July, 2021:
She said following a misunderstanding with her brother, she had left the family house with her son and a land guard allowed them to live in an uncompleted building. Later, she started preparing banku for sale, eventually adding akpeteshie (local gin) and other drinks; and she was doing well.
One morning, while she was out, a number of policemen stormed the premises and searched it thoroughly, including even checking the contents in the various pots of soups she was cooking to sell with the banku.
Ms Forson had rushed home and asked what the search was for, what she had done.
The policemen accused her of selling ‘wee’, which she vehemently denied.
She said she kept asking what she had done, pointing out that if she had really been doing that, she wouldn’t have come home when told the police had come there, but that seemed to infuriate the policemen.
One of them threatened to hit her with the butt of his gun.
Before she realised what was happening, he had put handcuffs on her.
The search in her room had found nothing.
However, outside, under a tree, they said they had found an empty bottle in which there was a ‘joint’ of ‘wee’.
Then another policeman went behind the building and came back holding a ladies’ handbag in which he said he had found another ‘joint’.
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During the Angel TV interview in Twi, asked if the handbag had been hers, she replied: “No. At that time I had never even owned a handbag.”
Other questions the Angel team posed:
Q: Did you tell your story to the court?
A: No. In court, only the policeman spoke.
Q: Did you understand what was going on?
A: No; it was all in English. I’m illiterate.
Q: Didn’t you have a lawyer?
A: I had three different lawyers, one after the other. Each charged GHc2000, but they didn’t help me.
As the first one wasn’t coming to court, my sister got a second one who came once and never came again.
The third one was present when I was sentenced.
Q: But at the police station, didn’t they take your statement?
A: No. I only saw the policeman writing something.
As I never went to school, I had no idea what he was writing.
Q: Did the policeman ask you any questions?
A: No. After he finished writing, I was detained for three days; then taken to court.
I was at the police station for eight months before the sentencing.
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I find the handling of the Interchange case so commendably refreshing, as opposed to the shocking approach in the Forson case.
In the Interchange chop-bar case, a fine instead of imprisonment seems just right.
Compare that realistic, humane ruling by Magistrate Ms Kwakye, with the conviction of an unlettered person when the court, allegedly, didn’t even hear her side of the story.
Why should it be only the word of the police that counts, as allegedly happened in this case?
Although it’s reassuring that the same judicial system that made the horrendous mistake which has corrected it, should that be the end of the story?
In some countries, such a human rights abuse would guarantee a victim a substantial compensation.
But has the State made any attempt to compensate Ms Forson?
So far, no such intention has been revealed!
Isn’t the State thus continuing the injustice?
Meanwhile, the actors whose dereliction of duty led to the wrongful conviction, have been free to continue with their work and life.
How can that be right?
Of course a compensation will not bring back the lost years, but such redress would be a way of healing, expressing the profound regret of the State for Ama Forson’s nightmare.