Poverty and bail

Two recent cases of the granting of bail, involving two high-profile and politically exposed personalities, have ignited what is a pet peeve of mine ‒ poverty and bail ‒ and have inspired the writing of this piece.

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 Hopeson Adorye, an erstwhile leading member of the governing New Patriotic Party (NPP) and currently in the ‘Butterfly’ movement of Alan Kyerematen, was recently in the news following his arrest and subsequent release on bail for claiming on a live radio programme that he orchestrated the detonation of dynamite in the Volta Region in the run-up to the 2016 general election.

Following closely on the heels of this, another story broke to the effect that Ernest Frimpong, a parliamentary candidate for the NPP in the Amanfi East Constituency, had been caught ‘pants down’ encouraging a group of small miners in a closed meeting to attack and beat up any soldiers that attempted to stop them from doing illegal mining.

This write-up is not about the appropriateness or otherwise of the conduct of these gentlemen ‒ that is a matter for the legal system to address.

I am exploring their arrest and subsequent bail in the context of what, in my view, is the disproportionate treatment of indigent accused persons who have had a brush with the law as opposed to rich or highly influential personalities when it comes to matters concerning the granting of bail.

Processed

Hopeson Adorye, following his arrest and detention, was promptly processed for court and managed to secure bail to the sum of GH¢20,000, with two sureties, one to be justified.

In relation to the parliamentary candidate, Ernest Frimpong, he was invited to the Tarkwa Police Station on Wednesday, June 12, 2024, and was released on bail that same day after he had made a statement.

As an avowed human rights lawyer, I champion the hallowed right to liberty of the accused persons against pre-trial incarceration and that the successful and swift granting of bail was a positive development and everyone should applaud the professionals involved.

My concern is that the same alacrity and seamlessness in the process of securing bail do not occur in cases involving poor or less politically exposed persons.

Poor

Even though I do not have the requisite data to back my stance (everything stated here is purely based on my personal experience and not from any objectively weighted scientific methodology), research is abundant in other jurisdictions from sociologists, political scientists and social psychology professors, which have concluded that poor people on average suffer disproportionately as compared to the rich and connected when it comes to the granting of bail when they encounter the criminal justice system.

Pre-trial detention is not only a huge human rights issue, as it sits at the very core of the global human rights regime and our 1992 Constitution, but it massively and negatively impacts the lives of poor people in a very destructive way in terms of earning capacity, the ability to pay rent, losing contact with families and loved ones.

It, therefore, has a detrimental effect on the well-being of such people, in many cases destabilising them and making them candidates for re-offending. Quite recently, a client I acted for has been reduced to abject poverty to the point where he has almost become suicidal. All this was because he was illegally and unnecessarily detained for six years when he stood trial for murder.

He was acquitted at the end of the six-year trial after being denied bail all those years. When he came out of prison, he had virtually lost everything: source of income, children, family, etc. 

System

The bail system in its current form ‒ high bail sums and justification (often in the form of landed property) perpetuates poverty and injustice, making it a crime to be poor. In trying to resolve this inherent discrimination against poor people, it is suggested that Judges and Policemen (who administer bail at the Police Station) should try as much as possible to let the financial situation of the accused person feature prominently in the bail decision.
It’s time for change.

The writer is a lawyer.
E-mail: [email protected]

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