In November 1993, in the case of NPP v. Inspector-General of Police, Archer, CJ., in striking down Ghanaian legislation providing for the licensing of peaceful assemblies, stated rhetorically:
“… police permits are colonial relics and have no place in Ghana in the last decade of the twentieth century. …Those who introduced police permits in this country do not require police permits in their own country to hold public meetings and processions. Why should we require them?”
Over the last three years, possible justifications for the retention of laws requiring that a permit be obtained prior to holding a peaceful assembly have been examined and rejected by the courts of Zimbabwe, Tanzania and Zambia as well as Ghana. In all four jurisdictions such laws were struck down as unconstitutional as being contrary to the fundamental right to freedom of assembly and, additionally, in Zimbabwe, Tanzania and Zambia, the right to freedom of expression. This article assesses the interpretation by the courts of the relevant limitation clauses under the respective constitutions and raises the question of why, within the space of 12 months, courts in West, Southern and East Africa, although unaware of each other's decisions, reached the same conclusion on a law which had been present on the statute books since colonial times. It is suggested that these series of cases signify a turning point in the development of constitutional law in Commonwealth Africa with respect to civil rights.