The red-haired lady went live until her phone went dead, or better still until it was taken from her by the police. It was almost ten minutes of confusion. She claimed that she was being stopped just because she was a woman, or even because of the colour of her hair. The men in blue thought otherwise.
Everybody is entitled to personal liberty but to every rule there is an exception. If the police suspect that you have committed or are even about to commit a crime, you can lose that freedom. Do not take it from me; it is right there in Article 14(1)(g) of our Constitution. The $64,000 question, however, is whether Zubaidah’s “detention” falls within this exception. One can arrive at an answer only when another question is answered. Was it a search, an invitation or an arrest?
First of all, unlike what Zubaidah would have us believe, the police can randomly search a person, a bag or car without a warrant. However, she was not far from right when she said they needed “probable cause” to do so. A combined reading of Sections 93 and 94 of the Criminal Procedure Act, 1960 (Act 30) reveals that the police can conduct a search if they have “reasonable cause” to believe, for example, that something linked with the commission of a crime is being concealed. This means that they had every right to search the car if they honestly thought that she may have possessed drugs as they claimed. As one of the policemen rightly explained, only a woman can search a woman’s body in line with Section 8 of Act 30. However, she was wrong in thinking that her bag and car could not be legally searched at the scene. Those things are gender-neutral and so are police stops.
In fact, the police could have arrested her when she started “proving stubborn” since Section 10 of Act 30 gives them the power to do so if they are obstructed in the execution of their duty. Obviously, preventing a police officer from conducting a lawful search qualifies as obstruction. Nevertheless, the officers in blue complicated their case when they intimated that they were not arresting her but merely taking her to the station. This distinction is very key. If they were arresting her, they could have done so compulsorily after informing her that she was preventing them from searching the vehicle. This would have been in accordance with Article 14(2) of the Constitution of Ghana, 1992, which provides that a person who is arrested shall be informed immediately of the reasons for his arrest. However, nobody can be compelled to honour a mere invitation to the police station. In the case of Asante v Republic, a man beat a police officer who ceased his car keys for refusing to honour such an invitation. Justice Anterkyi granted judgment in favour of the man on the basis that he had a right to resist arrest since he was not legally obliged to go to the police station for “a mere chat”. In other words, if the police were merely inviting her, they would have been wrong in compelling her to do so when she was not under arrest.
Be that as it may, the police may argue that they were only sending her to the station to allow a policewoman to conduct the search on Zubaidah. After all, there is no law which binds the police to conduct searches of people at the scene. They could do so at the police station. In essence, Zubaidah was right in complaining about being forced to go to the police station upon a mere invitation. Nonetheless, the police were not wrong in exercising their power to have her properly searched.