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Repealing subsection 3 and 4 of Section 51 Cap 6

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I had promised to discuss Section 51 (4) of the Representation of the People Act last week but this was overtaken by the more urgent topic of the week, that is, the Amendment of Section 69 of the Criminal Procedure Act, to be more specific, the provision for private prosecution. I will briefly review that topic which caused so much controversy before looking at section 4.{{more}} The Bill was passed close to midnight and the strain and stress of the exercise was quite visible on the faces of some of the parliamentarians long before this. The debate was back to back with the budget debate, and few members even questioned the haste. One member pleaded for the matter to be turned over to a select committee, but it was to no avail, and with our system of parliamentary majority, the Bill was passed after strenuous debate.

The situation is that private prosecution is now circumscribed, so that it is not the same as the old law. A person who is aggrieved may no longer approach the magistrate directly. All criminal matters, whether public or private, must now have the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP). The judicial review by the High Court is the only hope for a person whose matter does not get the green light from the DPP. The framers of our laws did not bring this bit directly under the DPP, perhaps with an aim of giving the individual another chance, and this is why it was prefaced with the word “private”, to distinguish it from other prosecution. What this is showing now is that all criminal matters must first get the consent of the DPP.

The Representation of the People Act

Subsection (ss.) 3 and 4 of section 51 are to be repealed, that is, they are to be removed from our laws. Subsection 3 provides the penalty for certain illegal practices committed by persons before and during elections, while ss. 4 stipulates some of the consequences that a convicted person would suffer. According to ss4, “any person who is convicted of any offence declared to be an illegal practice under this or any other section of this Act shall, in addition to any other penalty for such offence, be incapable during a period of five years from the date of his conviction- (a) of being registered as a voter or of voting at any election; and

(b) of being elected or appointed as a member of the House of Assembly, or appointed before his conviction, of retaining his seat as such member;

Provided that in the event of any appeal the incapacity shall continue until the appeal is determined and thereafter unless the conviction is quashed remain in force for a period of five years from the determination of the appeal unless the Court hearing the appeal directs that the period of five years shall run from the date of conviction.”

Fair elections

The framers of our laws expect fair and clean elections that represent the will of the people. It is with anticipation of this that a high standard was set for those who participate. This shows their high respect for the principle of democracy, as a general election is a bastion of this principle. They understood the dangers of false statements and the damage that could result. It is, therefore, for the protection of candidates, regardless of their political persuasion, that the provisions were made, and when the candidate is guilty of the offence, then the falsehood could be self-serving. Elections are serious exercises and no one person should be able to unduly influence them. This is foresight on the part of the legislator. In removing the subsections, we have to be careful that “in throwing out the bath water we do not throw out the baby. “

Ada Johnson is a solicitor and barrister-at-law.
E-mail address is: [email protected]