POLICING AND JUVENILES

Act 653 prescribes the procedures to be followed when a juvenile is arrested, through to when disposition is made and a detention order is executed. Under the Act, the police must inform a parent, a guardian, or a close relative of a juvenile as soon as an arrest has been made. Failing such persons, the police must inform the probation officer responsible for the district, to enable the relatives of the juvenile to be traced. In addition to the right to have persons responsible for the juvenile’s welfare to be informed, the juvenile also has a right to access legal advice.[1] A new provision on interviewing of juveniles by the police has been introduced so as to offer a juvenile parental protection right from the beginning of his or her contact with the police. The quality of the protection afforded the juvenile, however, is almost completely undermined by a subsequent provision to the effect that when the police consider that it is not in the best interest of the juvenile to have a parent, guardian, lawyer, or close relative of the juvenile present, they should arrange, instead, for a probation officer to be present at the interview.[2] This power to determine the “best interests of the juvenile” by a police officer who has effected an arrest in the course of a busy workday should be watched carefully as it is open to abuse. It is obvious why there would be no incentive for an arresting police officer not to make such a determination when his or her own work could be frustrated by such determination. Perhaps the law should require such determination to be made with the involvement of a social worker in order to reduce anxiety that the power might be abused on the grounds of expediency and the personal convenience of the police. Apart from the fact that this provision does not indicate when this power may be exercised, thus taking away with the left hand what has been given with the right, it also does not seem to appreciate the fact that probation officers are part of the system and, in terms of protecting the interest of the juvenile, are second best in comparison with a lawyer, parent, or guardian. Why give the juvenile the right to access legal advice if, at the critical time when statements are to be taken, the legal advisor may be prevented from ensuring that the advice has an impact on the process?[3]

Where no diversionary measure is contemplated by the police, they may grant bail on the juvenile’s own recognizances or those of a parent, guardian, close relative, or other responsible persons where the offense is not a serious one.[4] The snag is where the offense is a serious one, for the law provides in section 14 (2) that where the juvenile is not released on recognizance, the police should seek an order from a juvenile court to place the juvenile in a remand home or any place of safety and that the order shall be made by the juvenile court within 48 h after the arrest of the juvenile. In the past, the juvenile court sat once a week or once in a fortnight, and therefore the temptation to put the juvenile before the district court instead was great.[5] However, since 2008, a juvenile division has been created in the district court in Accra, putting to rest previous objections to delays due to the existing setup of juvenile courts and that sometimes produced collusion between the police and the juvenile to inflate the age in order to escape the “troublesome” rules of the juvenile justice system.[6]

  • [1] Section 11 (1), (2), and (3)
  • [2] Section 13 (3)
  • [3] See H.J.A.N. Mensa-Bonsu, “The Young Offender and the Criminal Justice System” (1990) vol.XVIII University of Ghana Law Journal, pp49-71
  • [4] Section 14 (1)
  • [5] An application for bail may be made to a district court in the absence of a juvenile court. SeeSection 17 (2).
  • [6] Where a court is unsure as to age, it may seek medical assistance to do so under section 19; however, this may happen only if the child looks too young to be eighteen years and above. Thereforewhere the suspicions of the court are not aroused in any way, there would be no challenge.
 
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