Feature Article of Monday, 4 March 2002
Columnist: Asare, Kwaku S.
In a very interesting ruling, the Supreme Court (SC) voted 5 to 4 to side with Comrade Tsatsu Tsikata's contention that the Fast Track Courts (FTC) are unconstitutional. Just last week, I wrote an article for The Accra Daily Mail in which I called Tsatsu's writ frivolous and without merit. The SC decision was just another reminder that anyone who tries to predict how any court will rule takes a significant risk of being wrong. I congratulate Comrade Tsatsu Tsikata and his counsel for a job well done. I disagree with the verdict but I respect it. The courts have spoken and those of us who love democracy must listen. But as we seek to develop our legal infrastructure, we must continually try to understand how our courts think.
The SC has an appellate and final jurisdiction in criminal matters. It also has an original and final jurisdiction in constitutional matters. Tsatsu's victory was on a constitutional question that had arisen out of criminal proceedings at the High Court, also known as the FTC because of its case management techniques aimed incidentally to preserve the rights of the plaintiff to a quick and a fair trial.
What does it mean to say the SC has an appellate jurisdiction in criminal matters? It means the SC can hear appeals of criminal cases that have traveled through the judicial system from the various courts of original jurisdiction. What is the first question that the SC should ask when it gets an appeal case from the lower courts? The first question is, "Do we recognize the court from which this case is coming from?" If the answer is NO, then the SC should refuse to hear the case.
In this vein, I cannot set up my own court, called "Obomeng Abrantie Court" trial people and send their appeals to the SC. The SC will not hear the case because it does not recognize my jurisdiction or acknowledge my court. In like fashion, all the appeals that came from the FTC (e.g., the appeals by Selormey and Mallam Isa) must have been put to this elementary test. It will be an unforgivable oversight for the court not to have asked this elementary question.
In Tsatsu Tsikata versus the Attorney General, 5 of our SC justices said they could not recognize the FTC. Fair enough, but why did these 5 justices choose to hear appeals that emanated from these so-called illegal entities or alien courts?
Did they knowingly violate the constitution by hearing a case from an illegal court? Do they realize that their failure to reject this FTC, when they first had the chance to do so, has caused Mallam Isa and Victor Selormey jail time and perhaps irreparable damage?
We must withhold any judgments until we have had the chance to read the opinion of the court, which is scheduled for release on March 20. I pray for the court to release this opinion on the Internet. Do I hear an unconstitutional Fast Track Supreme Court? Well, on second thoughts, they should release the opinion the 19th century way!