Remand Prisoner: Harrison Dzubi

The Human Rights Advocacy Centre was mandated with the case of Harrison Dzubi in 2011.

On 19 April 2004 the police arrested Harrison Dzubi, who was involved in an assault against his landlord’s son Horkey Mensah. Mr. Mensah was injured and after receiving treatment at a hospital made a police report. When arresting Mr. Dzubi the police found a review card from Accra Psychiatric Hospital in his pocket because Mr. Dzubi had spent two months in Accra Psychiatric Hospital in 2002 and was treated for schizophrenia after he resisted the navy’s desire to relocate him. He reacted well to the medicine, and thus was released not long after. Without further investigation the officers assumed he was a current outpatient and send him to the hospital.

After spending three days in the Psychiatric Hospital, Harrison Dzubi was testified to be fit to plead. He was sent to court for assault on 22 April without any legal representation. The judge simply disposed a further accommodation in the hospital. There the patientwas forced to take several drugs in treatment of his alleged episode of schizophrenia and a severe mental illness. Dzubi continues to suffer from mental illness, and hears voices, sounds and steps constantly.

The Judicial Secretary’s requested for information on the case on 28 February 2011. In response the Medical Director of the Accra Psychiatric Hospital, Dr. Akwasi Osei informed the Chief of Justice that Mr. Dzubi was discharged in February 2007 and has only remained in custody as the court had not instructed any arrangements to release him. Whenconsulting with HRAC in 2011 Mr. Dzubi had already been detained at the Accra Psychiatric Hospital for seven years without trial.

Therefore the applicant, Harrison Dzubi, applied to the Superior Court of Judicature for an order for a writ of habeas corpus – which is a legal action meaning that everyone has the right to be brought before court and a judge – to issue against the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, the Government Chief Psychiatrist and the Inspector General of Police. They had to justify the arrest and continued detention and provide reasons why the court should not order his release forth with. The HRAC made a complaint about the violation of Mr. Dzubi’s right to personal liberty and the breach of Article 14 (1) of the 1992 Constitution.

Every person shall be entitled to his personal liberty and no person shall be deprived of his personal liberty except in the following cases and in accordance with procedure permitted by law.

(d)   in the case of a person suffering from an infectious or contagious disease, a person of unsound mind, a person addicted to drugs or alcohol or a vagrant, for the purpose of his care or treatment or the protection of the community…

Also, Article 19 (1) of the Constitution which grants a fair trial within a reasonable time  was breached.

Article 19 (1): A person charged with a criminal offence shall be given a fair hearing within a reasonable time by a court.

Even though Article 19 doesn’t name a particular interval as reasonable, seven years cannot be referred to as reasonable. Normally a trial should be performed within weeks or months.

Furthermore, the procedure of the court impinged on the Persons with Disabilities Act of 2006. Mr. Dzubi has a wife and is the father of three small children. He has been deprived of his right to live with his family as protected under S.1 of the Act. In order to heal his mental disabilities the patient has the right to treatment that helps him to function fully and effectively participate in society. In this case, this treatment was refused.

Apart from this, his long custody without a trial constitutes discrimination on the basis of his disability as this is in violation of S.4 (1). If Mr. Dzubi had not been deemed to suffer from psychiatric illnesses he would not have been held in remand for such a long period of time under such degrading conditions.

Additionally, the failure to provide Harrison Dzubi with a legal representation results in a breach of S.5 which grants legal representation and the renewing of the case in order to bring it to trial.

Mr Harrison Dzubi was represented by the Executive Director of HRAC, Nana Oye Lithur during the trial on 5 May 2011. The judge stated his need to take some days to verify the truth of the evidence given by the Counsel for the applicant. Still, the judge revealed that there was no doubt that with the charge of assault (which is a misdemeanor) the victim would have been ‘better off’ being sentenced to imprisonment – as he would have spent less time in prison than he did spent in Accra Psychiatric Hospital. Therefore the applicant was discharged and the further trial was set for 7 June 2011.

In his statement the judge stated that according to National Redemption Council Decree (NRCD) 30 as the “Mental Health Proceedings” if an informant gives a Magistrate information under oath to the effect that it is expedient that, for the welfare of a person believed to be suffering from mental illness, or for the public safety, that person should be placed under care, observation and treatment in a psychiatric hospital. The Magistrate, upon receiving this information, would then examine the person. If there is a good reason to believe that the person in question is suffering from mental illness, he would order that the person be placed under care for a period not exceeding six months. The second detention for treatment shall not exceed eighteen months. In this case those limitations have been crossed without any doubt.

Also, the procedure required was not followed in the instant case.

As a result Mr. Dzubi’s right to his personal liberty according to the Constitution of 1992 was violated by the police and the Sekondi District Court.

A part from this, the seven years detention without a trial violated the constitutional right to fair trial within a reasonable time (Article 19(1)).

Therefore, it was determined that Harrison Dzubi was entitled to the absolute discharge and left the court as a free man.