The Attorney -General (A-G) and Minister of Justice, Mr Godfred Yeboah Dame, has laid before Parliament, a bill that will overhaul the country’s criminal justice system by allowing persons accused of certain offences not to face jail term.
The plea bargaining bill when passed into law, is expected to reduce the backlog of criminal cases in court by allowing accused persons to admit their guilt and enter into some form of arrangement with the prosecution, without necessarily standing trial or going to jail.
Mr Dame laid the bill before Parliament on Friday, December 17, 2021, and was accordingly referred by the Speaker of Parliament to the Constitutional , Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee of Parliament for consideration.
The bill, which is an amendment to the Criminal and other Offences (Procedure) Act, 1960 (Act 30), is officially known as the Criminal and other Offences (Procedure) (Amendment) Bill, 2021.
Elements of the bill include the right of an accused person to enter into plea bargaining with the prosecutor before judgment by the court, the format of the negotiations and the entity authorised to conduct plea bargaining with an accused person, which is the A-G or an attorney from the A-AG’s office authorised by the A-G.
Other aspects are the benefits of plea bargaining for an accused person, what the agreement should entail and the option for either party (the prosecution and the accused) to withdraw from plea negotiations.
It also gives the court the power to either accept or reject a plea bargaining deal.
The Plea Bargaining Bill is also not wholesale as some crimes are exempted.
The exceptions include treason, violent offences such as rape, genocide, robbery, kidnapping, murder, attempted murder, abduction, defilement, piracy and offences related to public elections.
In order to also guard against abuse, plea bargaining will be done only with the consent of the A-G, in line with his constitutional mandate under Article 88 and will be done under strict conditions.
Apart from the plea bargaining bill, the A-G is also working on an Alternative Sentencing Bill which will allow a court to sentence a convict to do community service and other options other than imprisonment.
During a working visit to the James Camp Prison in November this year, Mr Dame said he was treating the two bills with outmost priority in order to reform the country’s criminal justice for efficient and effective justice delivery.