Human Rights for Justice


  • Justice Sir Dennis Adjei



The persons who occupy public office—including those created by the Constitution of Ghana 1992 and any other enactments—and private organizations and institutions that perform public functions or receive public resources are accountable to the citizenry, particularly those whose taxes are used to set up public offices and pay their salaries either in whole or in part, or to provide or support private bodies to perform public functions. The term “public institutions” has a broader meaning within the context of access and the right to information than its ordinary meaning.

The technical meaning of “public institutions” within the context of the right to information covers institutions created by the Constitution, any other enactments and private organizations or institutions that perform public functions or receive public resources. The author uses “public institutions” in its technical sense in this article to avoid repetition of private institutions or organizations that provide public services or receive public resources.

In most cases, public institutions fail to observe the culture of accountability and transparency and decide on the types of information to disclose and those not to be disclosed, to render the citizenry impotent to hold them accountable. The persons who occupy offices in public institutions hold those offices in trust for the citizenry, and, as trustees and fiduciaries they are required to be accountable, transparent, prudent, faithful, honest and not to commingle their personal properties with the properties that they hold in trust for their citizenry.

Discretion was hitherto exercised by public institutions as to the information which may be disclosed to the public or not did not have statutory backing, as a result of which some of them have acted capriciously. In order to make the officers of public institutions accountable and transparent, most states have enacted Right to Information Acts to give statutory backing to persons who may seek information from occupiers of public institutions to ensure that they discharge their mandates as trustees and are accountable to the nationals of their respective countries.

Furthermore, the enactments on right to information are intended to give a clear exemption to information that cannot be disclosed with the sole aim of protecting the public interest in democratic societies in accordance with the Oath of Secrecy taken by public officers and which prevents them from revealing matters that shall be brought under their consideration or knowledge through the discharge of their official duties.

This article discusses the international law position of the right to information, taking into account the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights 1965, the European Convention on Human Rights 1950, the American Convention on Human Rights 1969 and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights 1981; and further discusses the Right to Information Act 2019 (Act 989) in Ghana and its effectiveness in promoting the culture of accountability, transparency and faithfulness within the public space; and, furthermore, assesses its impact on democracy and the justification for some of the exemptions provided by law to protect public interest in democratic countries.

The right to freedom of expression includes the freedom to seek, receive, hold opinions and impart information and ideas without public interference, except for restrictions imposed by the state which have been enacted into law and are necessary. The laws that are necessary in a democratic society to restrict freedom of expression must take into account the interests of national security or public order, territorial integrity or public safety, the protection of health or morals, the respect of the rights or reputation of others, the prevention of crime or disorder, and the disclosure of information received in confidence, and for the maintenance of the authority and impartiality of the courts.1

There will also be a brief discussion on freedom of information and access to information concerning the environment held by public officers and private institutions and organizations that provide public functions.

Keywords: freedom of expression; international law; freedom of information; journalism; Ghana.


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