Impacts of Mob [In]Justice on the Rule of Law in Ghana

Research Paper (undergraduate), 2012

19 Pages



This paper studies the practice of mob violence in the name of justice, and its implication to the rule of law in Ghana. The study is divided into three major part parts. The first part examines a number of conceptual issues of justice which serve as framework for the study.

The second part evaluates a number of possible causes that elicit recourse to mob violence as a way of seeking equity and fairness. It also brings out the possible impacts of the practice on the rule of law, good governance and sustainable democratic development in Ghana.

The paper rejects mob violence, “mob justice”, as an acceptable way of seeking justice, in the third part. This is done, taking cognizance of the conceptual framework set at the beginning. In effect, the paper turns the paradigm upside down, thus making of “mob justice” mob injustice.

Consequently, the paper makes a number of recommendations that should be considered in an attempt to put an end to the practice in order to uphold the supremacy of the rule of law needed for the entrenchment of democracy and good governance in Ghana.


In recent time, Ghana’s return to constitutional rule has seen an upsurge of lawlessness on many fronts. In the view of some critics, this phenomenon is the inevitable evidence of the relics of the turbulent political past that has left indelible prints in the socio-political and economic history of the country over the years. One main characteristic of this disturbing phenomenon is the rising threat of recourse to mob violence as a way to settling civil misunderstanding or dealing with suspected miscreants such as armed robbers, pick-pockets, rapists, etc. This way of seeking justice, usually named “mob justice”, seems to put a serious indictment on the rule of law and the administration of justice in the country. As result, the quest for good governance and the pursuance of democratic values become questionable. What then is mob justice, on one hand and the rule of law, on the other?

Mob justice refers to a situation in which a large disorganized crowd of people resort to violence and destruction in an attempt to ensure fairness and equity for themselves without recourse to the institutionalized public bodies entrusted with this responsibility.

The rule of law, on the other hand, refers to a situation in which the people in a society obey its laws and enable them to function properly. It emphasizes the supremacy of the justice system, the laws and the law courts, the judges and lawyers together with the law enforcement agencies of the State working effectively and efficiently to ensure peace, stability and socioeconomic development through fairness and respect for the rule of law. Effectiveness of the rule of law is solely dependent on the trust and confidence of the people in the legitimacy of these institutions. As a result, every citizen, irrespective of his or her status, origin or political affiliation, is subjected to the laws of the land. Under this dispensation, the law and its interpretation must be legitimately accepted as the true manifestation of the sovereign will and aspiration of the people in their quest for democratic equity and fairness at all time.

At this point, the essential questions of this paper can be posed as follows: What is justice? Why is “mob justice” an injustice? What are underlining causes of this phenomenon? How does is impact on the rule of law under Ghana’s evolving democratic dispensation? What can be done to put a stop to it in order to foster the rule of law and ensure sustainable democratic development in Ghana?

In a systematic attempt to provide answers to the above questions, the paper set off from the hypothesis that mob violence, popularly called “Mob Justice” is a gross act of Injustice. Indeed, it is a criminal act punishable under the Laws of the land as set out in the 1992 Constitution of the Republic of Ghana. Thus, it is a deviation from legitimate social norms and a violation of all the national and international conventions that guarantee the rights to life and fair justice to every human being.

In the first place, an attempt is made to define the concept of justice from legal, sociological and conventional point of views. Secondly, it identifies and examines some possible causes and consequences of “mob justice” in the Ghanaian society. Thirdly, the study discards the notion of “mob justice” as a form of justice. Finally, it draws lessons from the examination and evaluation of both the causes and consequences of “mob [in]justice” which would useful in the formulation of possible interventions toward its eradication so as to enhance the rule of law and good governance. In doing this, the paper will examine data drawn from secondary sources.


Justice has been one of the greatest concerns of humanity since the beginning of time. Consequently, philosophers, political scientists, sociologists, legal theorists, economists and many others have elaborated a number of theories of justice. In effect, both Plato and Aristotle regarded justice as “the essential virtue which enables humans to live together in harmony”, (Hoggart, 1992:174).

According to a sociological point of view, “Justice is a relational concept which seeks to provide a means of evaluating the impact of human action, whether by an individual or by a legal system, upon another individual or group”, (Mann, 1983: 180-181). From political science angle, justice can be conveniently divided into two aspects, procedural justice and substantive or social justice. The former, according to Robertson (2002: 263), “is considerably the easier to deal with, involving as it does, relatively technical questions such as due process, fair trial and equity before the law”. The latter refers to “the overall fairness of society in its division of rewards and burdens”, (ibid.)

What remain central in the various views expressed in defining ‘justice’ are the ideas of equity, fairness. It is therefore usually accepted that departures from equity and fairness are unjust and must be justified. In this regard, any recourse to violence to settle personal scores in any given human society without the due process of law is tantamount to a violation of the principles of equity and fairness that legitimate justice. Such an act is therefore a breach of justice.

A further consideration of ‘justice’ in the concept of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which Ghana is signatory, and the 1992 Constitution of the Republic of Ghana reveal features that clearly stipulate and emphasize the need equity and fairness in the quest for and administration of justice. According to the article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person”. The articles 5 and 6 respectively emphasize the importance of equity and fairness for every human being as follow: “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law.”

Consequently, articles 8, 10 and 11 clearly underline the same virtues of equity and fairness as necessary to true administration of justice. According to article 8, “Everyone has the right to an effective remedy by the competent national tribunals for acts violating the fundamental rights granted him by the constitution or by law.”

Article 10, on the other hand, is explicit on the necessity of equity and fairness. It declares: “Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him.”

In furtherance of this, Article 11, (1) reiterates the importance of a competent jurisdiction to administer justice by deciding whether one is guilty of an offence for which one is accused. It states inter alia: “Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defence.”

The Constitution of the Republic of Ghana states that the dignity of all persons shall be inviolable and that no one shall be subjected to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, or any other condition that detracts from human dignity. It also provides for an independent judiciary to ensure equity and fairness in the dispensation of justice. Article 17 states that “All persons are equal before the law”. Besides, “Citizens may exercise popular participation in the administration of justice through the institutions of public and customary tribunals and the jury and assessor systems”, subject to Clause 2 of Article 125. Clauses 1 and 3 of the said Article, trace the source of justice back to the people of Ghana, but confer its dispensation to the authority of an independent judiciary.

Justice emanates from the people and shall be administered in the name of the Republic by the Judiciary which shall be independent and subject only to this Constitution. (1)

The judicial power of Ghana shall be vested in the Judiciary, accordingly, neither the President nor Parliament nor any organ or agency of the President or Parliament shall have or be given final judicial power. (3)

The Clause 5 that ends this Article reiterates the sole responsibility of the judiciary in the administration of justice in all cases. It states as follows: “The Judiciary shall have jurisdiction in all matters civil and criminal, including matters relating to this Constitution, and such other jurisdiction as Parliament may, by law, confer on it.”

The Article 216 makes further provision for the establishment of a Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ). This Commission is, among other things, mandated to “investigate complaints of violations of fundamental rights and freedoms, injustice, corruption, abuse of power and unfair treatment of any person by a public officer in the exercise of his official duties”. (Republic of Ghana).

The consideration of the various legal instruments above gives a fair idea of the existence of legitimate legal and administrative framework for the promotion of the rule of law in Ghana’s democratic process. In effect, any act of justice that is carried out individually or collectively outside the judicial framework is a deviation from the norm. Consequently, such an act constitutes a breach of justice. As Hoggart (ibid.) rightly states:

Despite the popular expectation that the law exists to achieve just results and will operate in procedurally just ways, there is ample potential for conflict between legal systems, natural law, and morality, which gives rise to difficult questions about the nature and application of justice.

This, indeed, is the unfortunate situation in the quest for justice in Ghana’s democratic process. The administration of justice appears not to meet the popular expectation in most cases. Consequently, most citizens resort to mob violence as a way to justice. Various reasons can be associated to the rise of mob violence in the quest for justice. Considering the various forms it takes – lynching, burning of suspects alive, riot, football hooliganism, political, religious and ethnic violence, vandalism, disruption of court proceedings or prevention of the police from effecting lawful arrest and prosecution of suspects through group violence, burning of police stations - it is possible to trace some of the possible causes of mob [in]justice. The next part of this paper will therefore be consecrated to an examination of some of those possible reasons and their impact on the entrenchment of the rule of law under Ghana’s democracy dispensation.


Five major possible reasons have been identified as being the root causes of mob [in]justice. These are as follows: (i) reception failure; (ii) public dissatisfaction and lost of trust in the existing legal framework and constitutional institutions charged with such responsibilities; (iii) market failure; (iv) mob power and mass powerlessness and (v) redressing imbalances and addressing inequities. These reasons will be examined with their various impacts in the subsequent paragraphs.


The legal safeguards in Ghana are based on British legal procedures. According to (Seidman, 1987: 107), “Because there is a general cast of English legal culture colouring some Anglophonic African legal systems, it is sometimes supposed that the residual law of Africa is English law…” Consequently, defendants are presumed innocent unless it is proven beyond reasonable doubt that they are guilty of the charge brought against them, they cannot be sentenced by any court of justice. Unfortunately, people in Ghana are not used to adversarial systems of dispute settlement. They believe in adjudicature and pacification rather than competition for judgements, which appears foreign and too sophisticated to meet their just aspirations. This perception is further aggravated by the low-level of education and the illiteracy of majority of the citizens. These people therefore think that if they wait for trial, the culprit will get off the hook through the ability and cleverness of a lawyer or on the technicalities of the legal system, which they cannot comprehend. In effect, they perceive the judicial system as rather denying them true justice at the expense of their culprits. As a result, meting out instant justice is the best way to attaining ‘justices’ in their own thinking.

Besides, the charges for legal consultations have become so expensive and the justice process so sluggish that the ordinary Ghanaian cannot easily engage the services of a lawyer and wait for many years to get his or her case determined by any court of justice in the land. This situation is evidenced in a statement made by Lugaba Husein of Human Rights Network (Hurinet), a Kampala based non-governmental organization, and also President of the Law Society of the Makarere University, on the rise of mob justice in Uganda and quoted by Dispatch Online in an article. According to Husein: “The judicial process is long and sometimes costly, forcing the public to take the law into their hands, which is wrong.”

Under Ghanaian criminal laws, it must be ‘proven beyond reasonable doubt’, with exhibits, that a suspect is guilty. This exercise has been described by the public as a waste of time, energy and precious and scarce resources. ‘Justice delayed is justice denied’, so goes the saying. As a result, the ordinary citizen becomes peeved in his or her inability to get justice after being illegally wronged. In such a situation, the tendency is that, aggrieved persons choose to take the law into their own hands and vent their anger on innocent suspects at any least suspicion of what they may consider as a criminal act.


Another major cause of “mob justice” can be attributed to the collapse of trust and confidence in the judicial service and all the state justice apparatus that appear to have lost their legitimacy and credibility in the eyes of the citizenry. Much as it may appear as a mere perception, the clientelism that has characterized democratic practices since the inception of the Forth Republic has progressively eroded the fundamental basis of legitimacy of almost all the state institutions. Partisan politicking has led to a virtual bastardization of most state institutions of governance. Most public officials and their acolytes who are party faithful and owe their position to party-activism have failed to put themselves above such considerations in the performance of their duties. By so doing, they have compromised their credibility and integrity by overtly dubbing in partisan politics at one time or another, by creating grounds to be drawn into bribery, corruption and drugs scandals. Haven lost credibility in the eyes of the public, key state institutions such the judiciary and the law enforcement agents in particular, are seemingly perceived as abettors of crimes rather than defenders of equity and fairness. Indeed, the level of mistrust that results from this state of affairs put ordinary citizens in a very awkward state of vulnerability and insecurity. In this apparent absence institutionalized protection and security, the citizens have become defensive in a natural attempt to secure themselves by hook or by crook, collectively or individually. As result, mob justice becomes a possible way of expressing their dissatisfaction. As it will be shown in this part of the paper, the people’s dissatisfaction leading to mob justice to resolve their grievances will be presented with reference to three main areas: the system of justice, religious beliefs, ethnicity and politics.

Quoting Benda-Beckmann (2000: 2), “Law and for that matter the interpretation of law affects citizens’ security of property and livelihood as well as power relationships between individuals and groups.” In this regard, the quality of law and its fair and firm interpretation will determine the quality of governance and the success of the application of the rule of law.

Over the years, and particularly in recent time, there have been allegations of rising corruption in the judiciary. These allegations have been confirmed by a parliamentary committee in a couple of years ago and further re-echoed by the current Chief Justice of the Republic of Ghana, His Lordship Kingsley Acquah, who personally has declared a crusade to stem out this canker. Ironically, however, the Chief Justice himself is currently slung with damning allegations of bribery and corruption which in effect, defeat his crusade even before it got started. Fresh in the minds of the public is the bribery allegation involving one Justice J. B. Tandoh, the Offinso Circuit Court Judge who according to The Independent newspaper of Tuesdy, August 29, 2006 “was allegedly caught pants down in a bribery scandal a fortnight ago”. Also on the front page of Tuesday, October 3, 2006 issue of the same newspaper feature the headline “Lawyer twists Judge’s arms over MDCC contempt palaver.” This story relates the disappointment of “the anxious expectant audience” at the Cape Coast High Court following the alleged failure of the presiding judge, Justice Nana Gyemerah Tawiah, to pass judgement as scheduled on “the case of contempt brought against five elders of the Musama Disco Christo Church.” According to the paper, the judge “cited the contents of a letter sent to him by counsel for the five elders, who are also members of the church’s Interim Management Committee (IMC).” This turn of event did not augur well with the audience. Meanings were therefore read into this reason and suspicious drawn as the lawyer having twisted the arms of the judge. This is undoubtedly one of the grounds that have created credibility crisis for the justice system in Ghana over the years. Much as people would attempt to dismiss this development as mere suspicion or unfounded allegation, it definitely casts a slur on the entire justice system and erodes its trust base in the eye of the ordinary citizens.

The judiciary is increasingly be perceived as having not been able to meet the aspirations of ordinary Ghanaians in their quest for true justice. Although the Constitution stipulates a clear separation of powers, the judiciary appears to be more of a servant of the government of the day than a servant of the State, the Republic of Ghana, as such, the sovereign people of Ghana. Not in a too distance past, this state of affairs had drawn a lot of adverse criticisms from a large section of the Ghanaian public and media on account of certain judicial rulings widely perceived to be inconsistent with the letter and spirit of the 1992 Constitution.


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Impacts of Mob [In]Justice on the Rule of Law in Ghana
Governance and Public Policy
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impacts, justice, rule, ghana
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Lecturer Mawuloe Koffi Kodah (Author), 2012, Impacts of Mob [In]Justice on the Rule of Law in Ghana, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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