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Killing and murder in Ghana

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The killing of a person which was hitherto an abominable act seems to be on the rise in recent times. In 2011, the rate of murder was 1.68 per 100,000 people. Statistics from the Ghana Police Service indicates that in 2012, 560 murder cases were recorded. In 2013, 551 cases were recorded. Further in 2014, 2015 and 2016, 543, 525 and 549 cases were recorded respectively. In 2017 and 2018 also, 609 and 500 cases were recorded.[i] It is common in Ghana to associate the killing of a person to murder. Anytime a person is killed by another, the common phrase becomes, he/she has been “murdered”. However, not all forms of killings amount to murder. The mere fact that a person has been killed by another person does not necessarily mean in law that, that person was murdered. Murder is a specific offence in law with specific requirements. When those requirements aren’t met, notwithstanding the fact that the victim might be dead, that accused may not be guilty of murder.

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Any person who commits murder is liable to suffer death as punishment in Ghana.[ii] This is akin to the mosaic law of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. Under the Ghanaian law, a person commits murder when the person intentionally causes the death of another person by any unlawful harm. To establish that a person is guilty of murder, it must be established that the victim is dead of which the death was caused by harm. It must further be established that the harm was unlawful and the accused person was one who inflicted the unlawful harm on the victim. Lastly, the accused person who inflicted the unlawful harm on the deceased must have done so intending to kill the deceased.

With the first requirement of establishing the death of the victim, there must be evidence before the court that the victim is dead. Anything short of that will not suffice to establish the offence of murder. Where the victim has been badly injured by the accused of which doctors have declared that there is no chance of survival for the victim, that can still not support a charge of murder since the victim isn’t dead.

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The cause of the death must be as a result of unlawful harm inflicted on the deceased. What amounts to unlawful harm is defined in section 76 of Act 29 as that which is intentionally or negligently caused without any justification. Thus, where a person inflicted severe wounds on another person without any justification in law that would amount to unlawful harm. Conversely, when a medical doctor opens a person up or causes injuries to a person in a surgery that may not amount to unlawful harm. For murder to have ensued, the unlawful harm should have caused the death of a person. An example can be slashing the throat of another with no justification in law for that slashing of the throat to have caused the death of the victim.

The more important aspect of the offence of murder is the intention of the accused person who caused the death of the victim by unlawful harm. Where a person inadvertently causes the death of another person that may not amount to murder because there is a lack of an intention to kill. The killing a person intentionally need not be violent. Thus where a person causes the death of a victim through the use of unlawful harm but without violence, it cannot lie as a defence to say that the accused did not intend to kill the deceased merely because non-violent means were employed. However, an intention to kill may be inferred from the violence in the act of killing. Thus, a person who ties another person to a car and drags the person on the street whiles driving the car at 120 km/h until the person dies, such a violent act may be an inference that the accused person intended to kill. A person is deemed to have intended to kill another person, where from the circumstance or through the words and actions used by the accused, the accused demonstrated a clear posture of killing the person. Proving that the accused pre-meditated the act before executing it isn’t a requirement under the law. The intent to kill can arise immediately as the act of killing is being executed. In all circumstances, to say a person has murdered another person, it must be established that the accused intentionally killed the person.

To conclude, for a person to be guilty of murder, the prosecution must establish all these elements namely the death of the victim, the death being caused by unlawful harm and that unlawful harm was inflicted on the deceased intentionally by the accused to cause death. When even one of these requirements isn’t present in the circumstance or case, the accused shall not be guilty of having murdered the deceased person.



[i] Ghana Police Service

[ii] Section 46 of Act 29.


Source:  Kweku Attakora Dwomoh |