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Before independence

Before 1821:
Government of British trading forts and settlements on the Gold Coast were vested in the Company of Merchants trading to Africa as successors to the Royal African Company of England.

1821 - 1874:
British possessions on the Gold Coast were (apart from the period 1850-1866 when they were treated as separate entity) under the control of the Governor of Sierra Leone. But his powers were in suspense from 1828-1843 when the administration was carried on by a Committee of Merchants in London.

West Africa Act, 1821:
Company of Merchants dissolved; its forts and other possessions vested in the British Crown. Sir Charles McCarthy, Governor of Sierra Leone arrived in Cape Coast on 28/3/1822 to assume government. Killed in war with Ashantis in, 1824.

Britain handed, administration over to a Committee of Merchants selected by the British Government.

Captain George Maclean appointed President of the Committee of Merchants.

Treaty with Ashanti which gave up claim to suzerainty over the coastal tribes.

The Crown resumed government, but for 7 more years Gold Coast settlements were still under control of Governor of Sierra Leone. Maclean was made Judicial Assessor and Stipendiary Magistrate.

British Settlements Act, 1843-
Enabled Oders in Council to be made providing for establishment of laws, institutions and ordinances for peace, order and good government of Her Majesty's subject and others within the settlements on the African Coast.

Foreign Jurisdictions Act, 1843:
Authorised the exercise of political powers acquired by agreement or usage in territories which had not become part of her Majesty's dominions by cession or conquest.

1844, (3rd Sept.):
Order-in-Council requiring judicial authorities in the Gold Coast,when exercising jurisdiction among the indigenous inhabitants, to observe such of the local customs as were compatible with the principles of the law of England, and in default of such customs to proceed in all things as nearly as may be according to the law of England.

Bond of 1844 (6th March):
Famous Bond signed by Commander H.W. Hill, Lt-Governor, with the local Fanti chiefs at Cape Coast. By the brief document the chiefs acknowledged the power and jurisdiction which had been de facto exercised in the territories adjacent to the British Forts and settlements, and declared that the first objects of law are the protection of individuals and property and that human sacrifices, panyarring or the kidnapping of hostages for debt, and other barbarous customs are abominations and contrary to law. It was further agreed that serious crimes should be tried by the Queen's judicial officers sitting with the chiefs, moulding the customs of the country to the general principles of British Law.

Constitution of 1850:

Gold Coast severed from. Sierra Leone; given its own Governor (Governor Hill) and both Legislative and Executive Councils. In the same year British jurisdiction spread over a territoryof about 61,000 sq. miles, and the Danish King ceded the forts of Christiansborg, Augustaborg, Fredensborg, Kongensteen and Prindsenteen, to the British Crown for payment of £,10.000 The Legislative Council consisted of the Governor and at least two other persons designated by Royal Instructions or warrants. The Royal Charter of 1850 also authorised the Governor to summon an Executive Council to assist him in administration of the government.

Supreme Court Ordinance 1853:

Establishment of the Supreme Court of Her Majesty's Forts and Settlements on the Gold Coast. It was to be presided over by a Chief Justice, was given civil and criminal jurisdiction equivalent to the Courts of the Queens Bench, Common Pleas and Exchequer at Westminster. J.C. Fitzpatrick, the Judicial Assessor, was appointed by this Ordinance as the first Chief Justice. Provision was made for an appeal to the, Governor and Legislative Council from decisions of the Judicial Assessor.


By order in Council made under the British Settlements and Foreign Jurisdiction Acts the areas of the Gold Coast under British protection were given formal recognition, under the name of the protected territories., In the same year the Chief Justice and the officer commanding the newly-created Gold Coast Corps were made members of the Legislative Council as well as the Colonial Secretary. The same persons also formed the Executive Council.

Constitution of 1866:

By a Commission dated 19th February, 1866, the Charter of 1850 was revoked and the Gold Coast, together with Sierra Leone, Lagos and the Gambia were united under "the Governer of our West Africa Settlements". But the existing Gold Coast Ordinance were preserved and also was the Legislative Council although the Executive Council to exist. The Supreme Court was also abolished in 1866 and replaced by "the Court of Civil and Criminal Justice presided over by a chief

magistrate. The order in Council of 1866 remained unrevoked and the Judicial Assessor and other magistrates continued to exercise jurisdiction outside the forts.

Constitution of 1874:

The Royal Charter of 24th July, 1874 issued under the British Settlements Act, revoked the Commission of 19th February, 1866 so far as it applied to the Gold Coast and Lagos, and constituted these territories into a separate colony under the title of the Gold Coast Colony. In providing for a Governor, Legislative and Executive Councils the Charter repeated with little variation the terms of the Charter of 1850. On 19th March 1877 the seat of Government was moved from Cape Coast to Accra.

The Supreme Court Ordinance, 1876:

The Ordinance re-established the Supreme Court after its abolition in 1866. It constituted it into the Supreme Court of Judicature for the Gold Coast Colony and for the territories thereto near or adjacent where Her Majesty may -at any time before or after have acquired powers and jurisdiction. The Court was constituted of the Chief Justice and not more than four puisne judges and it was provided that the Full Court.(consisting of the Chief Justice and one or two pusne judges) should be a Court of Appeal with sittings in Accra and Lagos. The Supreme Court was given the same jurisdiction, except for Admiralty jurisdiction, as the recently-created High Court of Justice in England. The ordinance further provided that district commissioners should be ex-officio Commissioners of the Supreme Court exercising the powers of a judge of the Supreme Court within their own districts as well, as those of a bench of magistrates. The Ordinance abolished the post of a Judicial Assessor and transferred to the Supreme Court the jurisdiction formerly exercised by him on the Protectorate. The Petitions of Right Ordinance, 1877 (No.12) enabled claims against the Government to be pursued in the Supreme Court. Provisions for appeals from the Supreme Court to the Privy Council were contained in an Order in Council made in 1877.

Lagos ceased to be part of the Gold Coast Colony.
Order in Council of 1877:
On 27/12/1887 an Order in Council was made under the Foreign Jurisdiction Act empowering the Gold Coast Legislative Council to legislate for territories adjoining the Colony which had been brough under British protection. The first African member of the Legislative Council, John Sarbah, was appointed in 1888.

Royal Instructions of 1895:

On 11/3/1895 it was provided that apart from the Governor the Executive Council should consist of the Lieutenant-Governor of the Colony, the senior officer in command of regular troops in the Colony and the Colonial Secretary, Attorney-General and Treasurer together with such additional persons as might be appointed by royal authority. The ex-officio members of the Legislative Council were the same as for the Executive Council, with the addition of the Chief Justice, who ceased to be a member in 1911. Provision was made for the royal appointment of additional persons holding Offices in the Colony, who, together with the ex-officio members, were to be styled "official members". In addition provision was made for the royal appointnwnt of persons not holding offices. who were to be styled "unofficial members".


Constitution of 1901:

The Gold Coast Order in Council, 1901 for the first time laid down geographical boundaries of the Colony and annexed other territories in the Colony which did not already form part of Her Majesty's dominions. The annexed territories formed part and parcel of the Colony and all existing laws were applied to them. The Order came into force on 1/l/1902 but amended by substitution of more precise boundaries by the Gold Coast Boundaries Order in Council, 1906.

The Ashanti Order in Council, 1901:

Ashanti was annexed with the status of a Crown colony. The administration was entrusted to the Chief Commissioner acting under the direction of the Governor of the Gold Coast who could make Ordinances for Ashanti without the advice of the Gold Coast Legislative Council and such Ordinances were to be submitted to Royal Assent in London. The Ashanti Order in Council came into force on lst January, 1902. The first Ordinance was the Ashanti Administration Ordinance, 1902 which divided Ashanti into four districts, set up a Chief Commissioner's Court and district courts, regulated functions of native courts and applied a number of Gold Coast Ordinances to Ashanti.
The Northern Territories Order in Council, 1901 also came into force on lst January, 1902. Made the area a protectorate. The administration was similar to one spelt out in Ashanti.

The Northern Territories Administration Ordinance, 1902, also followed the same lines as Ashanti.


On 20th July, 1922, by an earlier Franco-British Declaration on 10th July, 1919, Britain had a mandate to administer the part of Togoland lying to the West (a former German Colony) and France the East under Art.22 of the Covenant of the League of Nations. Prior to this in 1914 during the Ist World War Gold Coast Forces, with the assistance of French troops in Dahomey, invaded and occupied part of Togaland.

Constitution of 1916:

Sir Hugh Clifford was appointed Governor of the Colony in December 1912 and endeavoured to enlarge the Legislative Council, which then consisted of 5 official and 4 unofficial members two of whom were Africans one being T. Hutton-Mills and the other E. Mate Kole, Konor of Manya Krobo. On 25th September, 1916 the 1886 Constitution was revoked. The 1916 Constitution effected little alteration except the enlargement of the Legislative Council. Membership of the Legco was increased from 9 to 22. The official members added included the Secretary for Native Affairs, the Controller of Customs, the Director of Public Works and the General Manager of Railways and the three Provincial Commissioners. The unofficial members included 3 paramount chieft-Nana Ofori Atta 1, (Akim Abuakwa), Nana Amonoo V (Anomabu) and Awame Sri 11 (Awunaga). E.J.P. Brown and J.E. Casely-Hayford were also added as unofficial members.

Constitution of 1925:

The era of Sir Gordon Guggisberg, Governor from lst September, 1919 to 1927 brought significant constitutional advance in addition to many other developments in the country. The Gold Coast Colony (Legislative Council) Order in Council, 1925 gave the Colony elected representation for the first time. The new Legco comprised the Governor with 15 official and 14 unofficial members. Among the official members were 13 ex-officio members who were the 5 senior members of the Executive Council; the Comptroller of Customs; the Director of Public- Works; the General Manager of Railways; the three Provincial Commissioners; the Surveyor-General; and the Director of Education. The Unofficial members were: 3 provincial members elected by the Eastern Provincial Council; 2 provincial members elected by the Central Provincial Council, 1 provincial member elected by the Western Provincial Council; 3 municipal members elected by voters of Accra, Cape Coast and Sekondi, respectively; 1 European mercantile member elected by representatives of firms belonging to a recognised chamber of commerce; 1 European mining member elected by the Gold Coast Chamber of Mines; and 3 Europeans nominated by the Governor. The 1916 Constitution was revoked.


The Gold Coast Ordinance Order in Council, 1934:

Effective from lst January, 1935; was a step forward towards unification of the administration of the Colony and its dependencies. It became possible to legislate for the Colony, Ashanti and the Northern Territories by one Ordinance. This, however, did not alter the position under which legislation for the Colony required the advice and consent of the Legco, whereas the Governor alone could legislate for the dependencies. One of the first laws to be made under this useful provision was a re-enactment of the Courts Ordinance of 1876, which was extended to the whole of the Gold Coast. District Commissioners' courts were replaced by magistrates' courts, the magistrates being lawyers where possible. District magistrates and district commissioners ceased to form part of the Supreme Court. The West African Court of Appeal had been established in 1928; but appeals from there still went to the Privy Council. In 1935 also the Chief Commissioners for Ashanti and Northern Territories were added to the Executive Council. The Ashanti Confederacy was restored and Nana Osei Agyeman Prempeh If was designated as the first Asantehene under the British Government. Native Authority and Native Courts Ordinances were passed and the Ashanti Confederacy was re-constituted. A Native Authority Ordinance had been passed for the Northern Territories in 1932 and a Native Courts Ordinance was passed in 1935. A Native Administration; Ordinance had also been passed for southern section of British, Togoland in 1932.


Sir Alan Burns, then Governor, advised the Colonial Office for appointment of Africans to the Executive, Council. Sir Ofori Atta and Mr. K.A. Korsah were appointed.

1943 - 1945-

Separate ordinances gave self-government to the municipalities of Accra, Kumasi, Cape Coast and Sokondi-Takoradi. These introduced elected majorities on town councils and provided for universal adult suffrage.

Native Courts (Colony) Ordinance 1944 (No.22):

This ordinance, following the Blackall Committee of 1943, marked a revolutionary change. The Governor was given power to set up entirely new courts and to appoint their members instead of the old customary law tribunals. A new land court was created to hear appeals from native court decisions in land cases.

Native Authority (Colony) Ordinance, 1944 (No.21):

This also made considerable changes. Native authorities were given power to exercise a number of functions usually regarded as falling within the province of local government, with default powers given to the Provincial Commissioner.

Constitution of 1946:

The Colony and Ashanti achieved representative government with the coming into force on 29/3/46 of the Burns Constitution. The operation of the Legco was extended to Ashanti; elected members were increased from 1 1 to 18; the ex officio members were reduced from 13 to 6 and the nominated members were increased from 2 to 6. Elected members therefore, had a majority of 6 over the official and nominated members. The elected members comprised 9 provincial members elected from the Eastern and Western Provinces by the Joint Provincial Council; 4 Ashanti members elected by the Ashanti Confederacy Council; and 5 municipal members of whom 2 were elected from Accra and 1 each for Cape Coast, Sekondi-Takoradi and Kumasi. The ex officio members were the Colonial Secretary, the chief Commissioners of the Colony, Ashanti and the Northern Territories; the Attorney-General and the Financial Secretary. Of the 6 nominated members 3 were Africans, making a total of 21 African members out of 30. Three African members were also appointed to the Executive Council, namely Nana Tsibu Darku, Mr. C.W. Tachie-Menson and Dr. I.B. Asafu-Adjaye. In 1946 also an agreement for the administration of.British Togoland as a trust territory by the United Kingdom Government was approved by the General Assembly of the United Nations.

Constitution of 1951:

The outcome of Aitken Watson Committee (1948) and Coussey Committee (1949) was this Constitution, which came into force on 1/l/51. The main Instrument was the Gold Coast (Constitution) Order in Council 1950, which for the first time applied uniform constitutional provisions to all the territories now included in Ghana. The old Executive Council was completely reconstituted and the Legislative Council made way for a Legislative Assembly consisting of almost entirely of elected Africans. For the first time elected representatives of all the four territories now included in Ghana met together in a law making body.
The Executive Council consisted of the Governor and a number of Ministers, the first time the term had been used in Ghana. There were 3 ex-officio members and not less than 8 representative Ministers appointed by the Governor from among the members of the Legislative Assembly and approved by that body. Ministerial Secretaries were appointed from the Legislative Assembly to assist the Ministers. Each Ministry was provided with an official head, to be known as Permanent Secretary. An official was also to be appointed by the Governor as Governor's Secretary and Secretary to the Executive Council. The Legislative Assembly - comprised the Speaker, 3 ex-officio Ministers; 3 representatives of chambers of commerce; 3 from the Chamber of Mines and 75 elected members.37 elected members represented the Gold Coast Colony;19 represented Ashanti; and 19 represented the Northern Territories.

A Police Service Commission was set up to advise the Governor on appointments, promotions, discipline, etc.


The office of the Prime Minister was created. Before then Dr. Nkrumah had been designated as Leader of Government Business by the 1951 Constitution. It was abolished on 1/7/60.

Constitution of 1954:

On 5/5/54 the major part of the Gold Coast (Constitution) Order in Council, 1954 (S.I. 1954 No. 551) came into operation.
The Executive: The Governor ceased to be a member of the Cabinet, which was made responsible to the Assembly and consisted of not less than 8 members of the Assembly appointed on the advice of the Prime Minister. However functions of defence and external affairs were in the hands of the Governor.
The Legislative Assembly: consisted of the Speaker and 104 members, all elected on universal suffrage, as follows: 39 rural members for the colony (other than Trans-Volta/Togoland Region); 13 rural members for the Trans-Volta/Togoland Region; 19 rural members from Ashanti; 26 rural members for the Northern Territories and Northern Togoland; 3 municipal members for Accra, 1 municipal member for Cape Coast; 2 municipal members for Kumasi; and 1 municipal member for Sekondi-Takoradi. The life of the Assembly was limited to 4 years.
The Judicature: A Judicial Service Commission was set up consisting of the Chief Justice and 2 other judges, the Attorney-General and the Chairman of the Public Service Commission. The Chief Justice was appointed on advice of the Prime Minister while other judges and judicial officers were appointed on the advice of the Judicial Service Commission which also had disciplinary control over judicial officers. A judge of the Supreme Court was not removable except on an address of the Assembly carried by not less than 2/3 majority of members, praying for his removal on the grounds of rrisbehaviour or infirmity of body or mind.


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