Court Watch 03-2024 Presidential Clemency Order

GN 2024-0498A General Notice 467 of 2024 Clemency Order No. 1 of 2024 - Correction of Error has since been issued via [Link]


[18th April 2024]

Presidential Clemency Order : Remission of Death Sentences and Reduction of Other Sentences

On Tuesday the President published Clemency Order No. 1 of 2024 [link] in which he reduced sentences imposed on certain prisoners.  In this bulletin we shall explain the effect of the Order and outline some difficulties we have in interpreting it – some of its provisions are difficult to understand.

Commutation of Death Sentences

Death sentences imposed on prisoners who have been awaiting execution for 10 years and more are commuted [i.e. reduced] to life imprisonment.

Comment:  The Order speaks of prisoners who have been on death row for 10 years and above.  Prisoners are put on death row after they have been sentenced to death by the High Court and before they have appealed to the Supreme Court.  Presumably therefore the 10-year period runs from the date on which they were sentenced and not from the date on which their appeals were dismissed.

In any event, a Bill to abolish the death penalty has been presented in the National Assembly.  If Parliament passes the Bill, as we devoutly hope it will, all prisoners will be removed from death row.

Female Prisoners

Female prisoners who have served at least one-third of their sentences will be released from prison.  This does not however apply to prisoners who were convicted of “specified offences” – we will explain what this means later.


Juveniles – persons under 18 years of age – who have served at least one-third of their sentences will also be released from prison.  However, juveniles who were “charged under the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act” [the Criminal Law Code] are excluded from the amnesty.

Comment:  The exclusion of juveniles charged under the Criminal Law Code must surely be a mistake.  The Code covers pretty well all well-known crimes, which range in seriousness from treason and murder to mischievously knocking on doors and throwing litter in a public place.  It is hard to think of any crime of which a juvenile might ordinarily be convicted that is not covered by the Code.  Most if not all the juveniles currently in prison have been charged under the Code.  If the Order is not amended they will not be entitled to release.

Elderly Prisoners

Prisoners who are 60 years old and older are entitled to be released if they have served one-tenth of their sentences, provided they were not charged under the Criminal Law Code.  As we have just pointed out above, this means that most if not all these prisoners will have to remain in prison.

Prisoners Serving 48 Months or Less

Prisoners who were sentenced to imprisonment for 48 months or less and have served at least one-third of their sentences are entitled to be released, unless they were convicted of specified offences [see below what this means].

Prisoners Serving More than 48 Months

Prisoners serving sentences of more than 48 months are entitled to an additional remission of one-quarter of the effective term of their imprisonment [i.e. one-quarter of the unsuspended portion of their prison sentences] if they have already served at least one-third of their sentences.

Comment:  it is not clear what is meant by “an additional remission”.

Life Prisoners

Prisoners undergoing life imprisonment are entitled to be released if they have served at least 20 years of their sentences.

Terminally Ill Prisoners

Prisoners who have been medically certified as terminally ill are entitled to be released.  Once again, under this Clemency Order, this does not apply to prisoners who were charged under the Criminal Law Code – which means, as we pointed out above, that most of these prisoners cannot be released.

Prisoners with Certain Disabilities

Prisoners who have served one-third of their sentences and who are visually impaired or “are physically challenged to the extent that they cannot be catered for in a prison or correctional environment” are entitled to be released.

Comment:  If prisoners are so disabled they cannot be catered for in prison, one shudders to think what they may have endured while serving their sentences so far.  One wonders too why they were sentenced to imprisonment in the first place.

Prisoners at Open Prison

All prisoners serving their sentences at the Open Prison are entitled to release.  This does not however apply to prisoners “charged under the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act”.  As we said above, this exception means that few if any of these prisoners can be released.

General Exclusions

There are some general exceptions to the amnesty.  Prisoners who have previously been released under an amnesty, but committed further offences and landed themselves back in prison, as well as prisoners serving sentences imposed by courts martial, and prisoners with a record of escaping from lawful custody will not be released.

Specified Offences

Specified offences are:  murder,  treason;  sexual offences;  car-jacking;  robbery;  public violence;  human trafficking;  unlawful possession of firearms;  and contravening the Electricity Act, the Postal and Telecommunications Act or the Maintenance of Peace and Order Act or POSA.  Female prisoners and prisoners serving sentences of 48 months or less will not be released if they were convicted of these crimes.

Comment:  Some of these specified offences are too widely expressed.  Many of the  offences under the Electricity Act, the Postal and Telecommunications Act and the Maintenance of Peace and Order Act could be minor fairly minor – failing to submit returns, or disorderly conduct in a post office, for example – and there is no reason why prisoners who have committed those offences should not be amnestied.

General Comment

The amnesty is a noble attempt by the President to show forgiveness to prisoners on this day, the 44th anniversary of our Independence.  It is most unfortunate that the amnesty has been marred by what must be drafting errors, and we hope they will be rectified without delay.

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