Feature Article of Tuesday, 20 August 2013
Columnist: Owusu-Ansah, Emmanuel Sarpong
For the first time in human history, Ghana is witnessing what I prefer to call a ‘juridicus coup d’état’ – i.e. a coup d’état carried out by the judiciary, specifically the Supreme Court judges. It appears that the Judiciary of Ghana whose duty it is to settle disputes, protect the constitutional rights of the people, and to promote reconciliation and peace, are cunningly snatching power from the corrupt politicians. They probably feel they can do more than just sitting in hot and overcrowded courtrooms settling headless and tailless disputes.
The good thing is that their weapon, as one would expect, are neither guns, bombs nor any other weapon of mass destruction, but their brain, the powers invested in them as custodians of the law, and jail threats. If the situation continues as it is now, Ghana may soon become a ‘Supremus Curia Judiocratic state’ – a nation ruled by Supreme Court Judges.
Between July and August, as many as five people have been compelled to appear before a panel of nine Supreme Court judges on ‘criminal contempt’ grounds. Unimaginably, these people were given guilty verdicts even before they were made to face the panel; in other words, they were found guilty of criminal contempt without trial; can we call it judicial dictatorship? They were thus dragged to the courtroom not to defend themselves or to prove their innocence as some of them mistakenly thought, but to ‘bargain’, as it were, the form of punishment that should be meted out to them. The ‘bargain’ is usually in the form of remorse and apologies.
The more remorseful and apologetic you are, the lesser the punishment. Those who are extremely remorseful and get a lawyer who has a great sense of humour, is celebrating his/her birthday, and is a comrade of the judges usually get a fine (between 2000 and 5000 Ghana cedis). But those who show absolutely no remorse get a-ten-day jail sentence. But make no mistake; you could still be thrown into jail after exhibiting a considerable degree of remorse and rendering countless apologies. This is how inconsistent these ‘legal terrorists’ are in dispensing justice.
The sad and most frightening thing is that apart from the ‘legal hijackers’ themselves, not a single soul in the country knows exactly what diction, vocabulary or language constitutes a breach of or disregard for court rules and regulations, or is tantamount to criminal contempt; and what punishment is handed down for what contempt (we now know there are various categories of contempt: “young contempt” and possibly adult contempt, child contempt, professional contempt, etc).
I am actually shivering as I type these words, as I may unconsciously slip into the thick mud of criminal contempt and find myself in some filthy and hopeless ghetto where there is gnashing of teeth. But I am trying as much as possible to avoid the use of words or vocabulary such as hypocrite, selective, bias, and voodoo; these are words that have already landed a couple of people in the draconic jaws of the ‘hijackers’.
One of the fundamental rights of people in a democratic society, as we all know, is the freedom of speech, which includes the freedom to constructively comment on any court case one wishes to comment on. But it appears this fundamental human right is substantially being supressed by the emerging rulers of the country. Now many journalists as well as legal and political analysts have stopped commenting on court cases for fear of inadvertently using contemptuous language and getting trapped in the sticky web of criminal contempt.
Observing the way things are progressing at the moment, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Supreme Court judges handling the presidential election petition declare themselves winners and both NPP and NDC losers. But, since our current politicians have allowed themselves to be possessed by that demon called corruption, why don’t we give the Supreme Court judges the chance to rule the nation?
After all, the leader of the ‘juridicus coup d’état’, Justice William Atuguba, has done enough to demonstrate how good a leader he will be if given the opportunity to ascend the political thrown. But of course they are not going to be given the nod to rule us until a vow is made to restore and safeguard that fundamental right, the freedom of speech which they have so far supressed; and we are told exactly what constitutes criminal contempt.
Emmanuel Sarpong Owusu-Ansah (Black Power) is an investigative journalist, educator, and a researcher. He may be contacted via email: firstname.lastname@example.org