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Ghana: Criminal Code and Courts
Country Study > Chapter 5 > National Security > Criminal Justice > Criminal Code and Courts


Two of the three categories of offenses cited in the Criminal Code concern offenses against the individual. The third category includes a series of offenses against public order, health and morality, and the security of the state as well as piracy, perjury, rioting, vagrancy, and cruelty to animals. Several offenses reflect Ghana's traditional laws, including drumming with the intent to provoke disorder, cocoa smuggling, and settlement of private disputes by methods of traditional ordeal.

Criminal Court procedure is guided by the Criminal Procedure Code of 1960 as subsequently amended. As in British law, habeas corpus is allowed, and the courts are authorized to release suspects on bail. Ghana's legal system does not use grand juries, but, in accordance with constitutionally guaranteed fundamental rights, defendants charged with a criminal offense are entitled to a trial by jury.

Five degrees of offenses are recognized in Ghana. Capital offenses, for which the maximum penalty is death by hanging, include murder, treason, and piracy. First-degree felonies punishable by life imprisonment are limited to manslaughter, rape, and mutiny. Second-degree felonies, punishable by ten years' imprisonment, include intentional and unlawful harm to persons, perjury, and robbery. Misdemeanors, punishable by various terms of imprisonment, include assault, theft, unlawful assembly, official corruption, and public nuisances. Increased penalties apply to individuals with a prior criminal record. Corporal punishment is not permitted. Punishments for juveniles are subject to two restrictions: no death sentence may be passed against a juvenile, and no juvenile under age seventeen may be imprisoned. Regulations and laws such as these are not applied equitably. Indeed, defendants habitually resort to one or another measure to avoid or ameliorate punishment.

The Ghanaian court system is a multifaceted organization. The Supreme Court of Ghana, which consists of the chief justice and four other justices, is the final court of appeal and has jurisdiction over matters relating to the enforcement or the interpretation of constitutional law. The Court of Appeal, which includes the chief justice and not fewer than five other judges, has jurisdiction to hear and to determine appeals from any judgment, decree, or High Court of Justice order. The High Court of Justice, which consists of the chief justice and not fewer than twelve other justices, has jurisdiction in all matters, civil and criminal, other than those involving treason.

Before mid-1993, lower courts consisted of circuit courts, which had jurisdiction in civil matters and in all criminal cases except offenses in which the maximum punishment was death or the offense was treason; district or magistrate courts with jurisdiction over civil suits and criminal cases except firstdegree felonies; and juvenile courts, empowered to hear charges against persons under seventeen years of age. In 1982 the PNDC created a parallel hierarchy of special courts called public tribunals, which exercised only criminal jurisdiction, including some offenses under the Criminal Code. Members of the public tribunals and their panels were mostly lay people who sat with lawyers. Proceedings were often swift and could result in death sentences. There were no provisions for appeals until 1984, when the PNDC established the National Public Tribunal, which consisted of three to five members, to receive appeals from lower tribunals. Its decisions, however, were final and could not be appealed. In 1982 a five- to seven-member Special Military Tribunal was also established to handle crimes committed by military personnel.

In July 1993, the Parliament of the Fourth Republic incorporated the public tribunals into the existing lower courts system, except for the National Public Tribunal, which was abolished. A new hierarchy of lower courts was established consisting of community tribunals, circuit tribunals, and regional tribunals. The tribunals have original jurisdiction in both civil and criminal cases, and decisions can be appealed through higher courts. In late 1994, indications were that the new tribunals had not yet begun to function in many parts of the country, at least partly for lack of funds.

Data as of November 1994

Last Updated: November 1994

Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for Ghana was first published in 1994. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on

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