CONDUCT OF MURDER TRIALS IN GHANA
Two types of trial of criminal offences exist in Ghana.These
are summary trials and trials on indictment.
In a summary trial the judge sits as both the arbiter of
fact and law while in a trial on indictment,the judge sits with a jury or
Trials on indictment are usually reserved for serious
offences like murder.Ghana’s criminal code specifies death for a person who
commits murder.The elements of murder include the following:(i)There must be a
(ii)The accused is
accused must have caused the death by an unlawful harm
accused must have intended to kill the deceased.
Meanwhile the constitution of Ghana provides that a person
who commits a criminal offence must be deemed innocent until he is proven or
pleaded guilty.Hence , the prosecution in all criminal cases must prove beyond
reasonable doubt that a person is guilty.It must also be noted that a plea of
guilty is not acceptable in the case of an offence punishable by death
meaning,the prosecution has to prove that indeed a person is dead and the
accused actually intended to and did commit the murder with all the other
evidence to the jury which proves that the accused actually committed the
A person charged with an offence of murder must first be
brought before a District Court for committal proceedings.If the court finds
that there is a case for the accused to answer ,then he must be brought before
a court of competent jurisdiction which usually is the High Court.However,if the
magistrate is of the opinion that the accused has no case to answer,he must be
discharged.In the High Court trial,the prosecution is expected to call
witnesses to give evidence in the form of oral or documented evidence.
When the prosecution closes its case a submission of “no
case”may then be made on behalf of the accused.However if the trial judge
decides that there is a case to answer,the accused is called upon to do so.
Hearing then comes to an end after the prosecution and the
accused have addressed the court.The judge is tasked to sum up the case for the
jury which retires to consider their verdict.They then come back to the court
room and deliver their verdict.In the case of a murder trial the verdict is
expected to be unanimous with the jury not obliged to give reasons for their
decision.Next,the trial judge goes on to convict or discharge the accused.
There can also be a special verdict of “not guilty by reason
of insanity”where the trial judge would have to commit the accused to a mental
institution.In the instance where the jury does not come to a unanimous
decision meaning cannot give verdict according to law,the jury is discharged
and a new jury is empanelled for a retrial usually referred to as a “mistrial”.