General News of Saturday, 12 January 2013
Source: Daily Guide
Justice William Atuguba appeared incensed on Thursday when hearing commenced at the Supreme Court on a petition challenging the election of President John Dramani Mahama, filed by the opposition New Patriotic Party (NPP).
He was presiding over a nine-member panel to decide whether or not the ruling National Democratic Congress (NDC) should be joined in the matter before the main petition could be heard.
Just as the NDC legal team led by Tsatsu Tsikata was about to move the motion for joinder, Philip Addison, lead counsel for the NPP’s petitioners, said before the motion would be moved, they were raising an objection.
Mr. Addison prayed the court to allow the issues they sought to raise be heard in chambers instead of in open court.
It later turned out that the objection had to do with the composition of the Bench and sources said the NPP was concerned because they were not happy with Justice Atuguba being a member of the panel.
Initially, the NDC team together with Tony Lithur and his team who were representing President Mahama as the first respondent in the petition did not want the objection to be heard in chambers but the EC legal team associated itself with the NPP’s position to hear the objection in chambers.
As the argument ensued, the court decided that it was capable of hearing the objection in chambers and if there was the need to make it public, the court would do so.
The court then asked the NPP to file a motion formally to challenge the composition of the bench before adjourning the case indefinitely.
It was in the course of the argument over whether or not the objection should be heard in chambers that Justice Atuguba cut in to say he had some observations to make.
He said, “I am concerned that there should be at all times a very strong and truly independent judiciary.
“The health of the country must be preserved; if we don’t have a strong judiciary we will be gambling with the destiny of this country.”
He said if that happened, he would not be part of it and added, “I don’t think my colleagues would also be part of it.
“Ghana is a very solid country but it is breaking down because principles are being chopped down almost to pedestrian level.
“The Court must be strong and truly independent. The health of [our] country depends on us,” he said.
He added that “courts are there for the public and the judges are supposed to be public servants and with the exception that a matter is gravely confidential, it has to be heard in public”.
After the proceedings, both the NDC and NPP officials attempted to explain the objections to journalists at the court’s premises.
Nana Ato Dadzie, a former Chief of Staff in the Rawlings era, disclosed that though no judge’s name had been mentioned so far, it was obvious that the NPP lawyers were referring to Justice Atuguba because they had already made it public through some radio stations that they were going to object to him being part of the panel.
He speculated that the NPP were making this argument on grounds that Justice Atuguba was related to Dr. Raymond Atuguba, the newly appointed Executive Secretary to the President and therefore, his presence on the Bench could influence the decision of the court.
Johnson Asiedu-Nketia, NDC General Secretary, also said that they did not know the main reasons why the lawyers were objecting to Justice Atuguba presiding and therefore would wait for them to file their reasons.
He however observed that this was going to delay the process saying, “Unless this matter is determined, we cannot go into our application for joinder and unless our application for joinder is determined we cannot go into the main issue about their challenge to election result.”
He added, “So I am happy that if they are the cause of delay they cannot turn round to be blaming the judiciary”.
When asked if he saw the case dragging on for a long time, Asiedu Nketia answered that ‘I don’t know, I am not a lawyer. Anytime I am invited I will appear but that does not stop government business from going on.”
NPP General Secretary Kwadwo Owusu Afriyie aka Sir John said that the matter they wanted to be heard in chambers concerned one of the Justices who in his own interest needed to recuse himself from the panel.
Sir John failed to mention the reason but said they were prepared to bring formal application as ordered by the court to state their reasons saying, “Once a formal motion comes in you will know the nature of the problems that we have”.
Sir John appeared to have lifted the lid on the judge in question when he said “his demeanor in court today showed us that he knew that something was wrong in his sitting on the matter. It is not for me to tell him to go,” and it was a direct response to what Justice Atuguba had said in the courtroom.
He said that it was wrong for a judge sitting in the case to think that a simple application being made would bring the whole country on its knees.
“I think that it is wrong and I don’t know whether he was already privy to the issue counsel for the petitioner were going to make”.
The court action was initiated on December 28, 2012 by the NPP presidential candidate Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, his running mate Dr. Mahamudu Bawumia and the party’s Chairman Jake Otanka Obetsebi-Lamptey as the petitioners.
President Mahama, in his personal capacity as presidential candidate of the NDC and the EC, the body that supervised the December general elections, have been cited as respondents in the suit.
The petitioners are praying the highest court of the land to declare that “John Dramani Mahama was not validly elected president of the Republic of Ghana.”