BNI not obliged by law to permit a lawyer for a person it interogates- Interior Minister

Posted: July 19, 2010 in Politics

The Minister for Interior, Mr. Martin Amidu, says the Bureau of National Investigations, (BNI) is not obligated by the Constitution to permit a lawyer of a person it invites for investigation to sit in during its interrogations.

Ghana's Interior Minister, Martin Amidu

“The Bureau of National Investigations has no legal obligation to permit the lawyer of a person it invites for investigations to sit through any interrogation when the invitee has not been arrested, restricted, or detained by the BNI,” he noted.

Mr. Martin Amidu was answering questions in Parliament last Friday, which was posed by the member for Offinso South, Hon. Ben Abdallah Banda on whether the BNI has the power to prevent people they invite to their office for interrogations from allowing their lawyers to sit through the interrogations.

He further told members that, “When the BNI invites a person for interrogation in the performance of its statutory function of collecting, collating and evaluating intelligence relating to national security for dissemination within the government,  it is not obliged to permit the presence of the person’s lawyer during the interrogation.”

However, he said a lawyer may only be permitted to sit in during interrogation when the detainee has been arrested. “Where the person invited for interrogation is arrested, restricted or detained, actual or constructive, during the period of invitation, he has a right to the presence of a lawyer of his choice throughout any interrogation, then, or thereafter,” stated Mr. Amidu.

He explained that the BNI may interrogate a person either as a witness or a suspected perpetrator of crime as part of a pre-arrest investigation process either at the scene of crime or another place without the presence of his lawyer. At  that stage the BNI is only gathering evidence of crime to enable it make up its mind whether or not to arrest, restrict or detain a suspect.

Mr. Banda however found Mr. Amidu’s explanation not convincing. He claims the position of the minister contradicts the 1992 Constitution and argued that since the law allows everybody the right to a counsel, one cannot engage the services of a lawyer for him or her to sit somewhere whilst he, the client, is cross-examined.

“What is the essence of telling a person that he or she has the right to a lawyer of his choice if the lawyer cannot be with him,” he asked when he appeared on Joy News to respond to the Mr. Amidu’s answer.

Also on Joy News, a lecturer at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science of Technology, (KNUST), Mr. Kofi Abotsi agreed to the answer given by the Interior Minister.

According to him, the BNI is not obliged by law to admit lawyers when an invitee is being interrogated.

He explained that a person has the right to turn down an invitation by the BNI but would be entitled to a lawyer to avoid giving out self-incriminatory statements when the BNI has no other option than to arrest him or her.
“If you are only invited and you go, then at that point, you are really not protected by the constitution, so to speak, because the constitution deals with the point of arrest. If you have been arrested and are facing a criminal charge or trial, then you have the right to a counsel and therefore, at that point, it is no more a discretionary matter,” he noted.

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