Death penalty is too final – Chief Justice nominee calls on legislature for review


Chief Justice nominee, Gertrude Torkornoo, has called for a review of capital punishment in the country’s constitution.

Speaking in Parliament during her vetting on Friday, she said that for her as an individual, the death penalty sentence handed to convicts seems too definitive.

Justice Torkornoo thus called on parliament to take a review of the death penalty.

“As a justice of the Supreme Court, I am mindful of the fact if cases come to court. It will be my duty to preside over it. But on a personal level, I do think the death penalty is too final and I would be grateful if the legislative body would begin to look at it,” Justice Torkornoo said.

When asked if as a judge she should not be firm in handing down death sentences, especially to convicted murderers, she noted “sentencing is always guided by law, so long as the law says it I can’t dispute it.

For years, some civil society organisations have called for the abolition of the death penalty. In Ghana, capital punishment is a mandatory sentence for certain offenses including murder, treason and genocide.

However, Ghana last executed convicts on death row in 1993, the year of Ghana’s return to civilian rule. Twelve people convicted of armed robbery or murder were executed by firing squad.

According to a report by Amnesty International, as of the end of 2020, 160 people – 155 men and five women – were under sentence of death. These included six foreign nationals, one from Benin, two from Burkina Faso and three from Nigeria.

Amnesty International cited a lack of effective legal representation among others for the plight of some convicts on death row.

“The death penalty in Ghana has been frequently used in violation of international law and standard, affecting predominantly those from disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds, as shown by research carried out by Amnesty International. It is high time the authorities of Ghana acted to fully abolish it.”

“Conditions for men and women on death row do not meet international standards. Both men and women reported overcrowding, poor sanitary facilities, isolation, and lack of adequate access to medical care and to recreational or educational opportunities available to other people in detention. Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases without exception,” parts of the research read.

Among other things, they are calling for an express abolishment of death penalty for all crimes, commuting the death sentences of all death row prisoners to terms of imprisonment; reviewing the cases of all death row prisoners to identify any potential miscarriages of justice and providing all death row prisoners, regardless of means, with adequate and effective legal aid to pursue any appeals against their convictions and death sentences.

Meanwhile, In June 2021, Francis Xavier Sosu, a member of Parliament for Madina Constituency in Ghana, initiated a proposal for the introduction of a bill to remove the death penalty from the Criminal and Other Offences Act, 1960 (Act 29). The proposal seeks to abolish the death penalty for most capital offences under national legislation.

The move is seen as a unique opportunity for Ghana to make significant steps towards the abolition of the death penalty for all crimes. You can support abolition in Ghana in three simple steps.

Click here to read the full Amnesty International report on death penalty in Ghana.

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