Country Listing

Ghana Table of Contents



Prior to the advent of British imperial rule, traditional law, which sought to maintain social equilibrium and to ensure communal solidarity, governed social relations among Ghana's peoples. Among the Talensi ethnic group of northern Ghana, for example, homicide was viewed as a transgression against the earth, one's ancestors, and the victim's lineage. Deterrence from crime or rehabilitation of an offender were not objectives of the legal system. Among the Asante, the same concern with social equilibrium and communal solidarity prevailed. Serious crimes such as murder, unintentional homicide, suicide, sexual offenses, treason, cowardice in war, witchcraft, and crimes against the chief were termed oman akyiwad, offenses that threatened the mystical communion between the community on the one hand and one's ancestors and Asante gods on the other. The authorities punished such behavior with a sentence of death in the case of murder or by the sacrifice of an appropriate animal in the case of lesser offenses. Efise, or minor crimes, did not rupture this relationship; hence, an offender could repay his debt to society with a ritual impat, or compensation.

The British imposed upon Ghana's traditional societies criminal laws and penal systems designed to "keep the multitude in order" rather than to preserve the equilibrium between man and traditional gods. The development of penal law, however, was uneven. From 1828 to 1842, a council of merchants exercised criminal jurisdiction in and around British forts on the coast. The council often abused this power, thereby alienating many Ghanaians. After creating the Colony of the Gold Coast in 1874, the British gradually reformed and improved the legal and the penal systems. After more than a century of legal evolution, the application of traditional law to criminal acts disappeared. Since 1961 the criminal law administered by the court system has been statutory and based on a Criminal Code. This code is founded on British common law, doctrines of equity, and general statutes which were in force in Britain in 1874, as amended by subsequent Ghanaian ordinances.

Data as of November 1994