On psychotherapeutic hearings and the making of drug-dispensing judges – the left wing of suicide laws in Ghana by Ama Boakyewaa Adjei



It is sad indeed when after I have failed to die, the law incarcerates me; as if the suicide attempt, by some magic, freed me off the demons that had propelled me to the cliff Anonymous.

Nobody wants to die. At least I don’t. Do you? In fact, so innate is our instinct to survive that to ever consider the possibility of ending one’s life, something fundamental must have gone wrong in the mind. And yet often times, we’ve seen life compel some of the best of us into grievous acts of self-destruction.

History is a good place to begin

A brief history on the suicide laws, if I may? And this is all from http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-14374296. You should definitely click that link! So suicide…is not a crime anywhere – because then cadavers would be in jail. Now that’s insanity…not cool…unless you fancy A Nightmare on Elm Street! You know what else isn’t so cool? Attempted suicide is a crime in Ghana! Why? We were following the Brits! But why not? They colonised us, educated us, fed and draped us in the finer things, introduced us to the Lord – Halleluiah! – opened our eyes and our world…so, we copied them, tried to speak like them, mated with them, travelled to them, even adopted their names…and their laws. Suicide has never had favourable reviews in England…or anywhere; neither in the church nor the more secular parts of society.  In fact, it’d probably rank lower than Death Wish IV on Rotten Tomatoes! That’s why in the 13th century, the common-law slapped it with a CRIME label! And we followed right on, integrating it into our 1960 Criminal Offences Act (Act 29), section 57(2). Ice this with section 296 (4) of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1960 (Act 30) and you’ve got the perfect cake…garlic cake. Urgh! It says,  permit me to speak in not-so legal terms , that if you try to die, you better succeed because if you fail, we will find you, we will drag you into the public courts, we will probe, discover your inner most desires, the afflictions of your persona, then…we may fine or imprison you! When you say that out loud, it’s worse than cake! Its bread! Garlic bread!

The irony of 1961

In a classic twist of irony, our Commonwealth Prefects, the Brits, dump their section 57(2)-like law exactly a year after we adopt them, in what they call the Suicide Act of 1961! Largely because science says suicidal proclivities are only the outward expression a deeper underlying unhealthy mental state.

The greater irony of 2012

Have you seen the Mental Health Act, 2012 (Act 846)? This masterpiece of legal artistry lists the most elaborate rights of the mentally defective. Now let’s flip over to sections 67 and 60. Aha! Again, may I freely speak, unbound by the cords of legal language? If a person suffering some mental dysfunction is found a danger to himself, carry him to the hospital; and note also, that they’ve got a right to privacy. See, hospitals and confidentiality! That’s how you roll with these guys. Now the court is no hospital, hearings are no therapy, and judges are no pharmacists – unless the sentencing magically cures the hormonal abnormalities at play in our subject’s mind.  Courts are anything but private. So it would seem that section 57(2), is in clear violation of the personal rights of mental health victims; such breaches as are punishable under section 96 of Act 846 – as none other than a second degree felony! Are we shooting ourselves in the foot already? Clearly, something must give.

Much ado about nothing?

I must admit, I don’t know of many Ghanaian cases…hold on, scratch that. I don’t know of any instances in our jurisdiction where a person was hauled to court because they failed to die by self-murder. So maybe, possibly, in effect, section 57(2) is practically obsolete, in which case, this entire article seems moot. But then again, wouldn’t it be a rather iconic moment in court if such a charge, someday landed at its feet? The question is, in the face of irrefutable evidence, would our judges circumvent Act 29 in favour of Act 846, or would they shed the black robe for the white coat? But until then, I may be excused for the fair reason that, perhaps I too, am afflicted with a mental defect such as causes me to lapse into episodic moments of vain babbling.