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Press Releases of Thursday, 21 July 2011

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Statement by The Forum For Governance And Justice (FGJ)

PRESS STATEMENT: THE FORUM FOR GOVERNANCE AND JUSTICE (FGJ) REACTS TO RECENT GBA STATEMENT REGARDING SOME GALLANT LAWYERS WHO MADE COMMENTS ABOUT CORRUPTION IN THE JUDICIARY JULY 18, 2011

INTRODUCTION

We wish to use your respected media outlets to once again discuss an important and pressing matter, which requires the attention of all Ghanaians. You will recall that we have on a number of occasions used your respective media houses to express our disquiet about the wanton victimization of some four gallant lawyers who made comments about the perceived and indeed real instances of corruption in the Judiciary.

This time we wish to address three things arising from very recent developments in this matter. The first point we seek to make is that the Association of Magistrates and Judges of Ghana (AMJG), which organization we are in court to establish is operating illegally, and the Ghana Bar Association (GBA) have, since the matter arose, chosen to rely on unverified rumours rather than on the facts of what actually transpired at the roundtable discussion on the Judiciary organized by the National Commission for Civic Education (NCCE) on April 29, 2011.

The second point we seek to make is that, we think the AMJG and the GBA are acting in a patently discriminatory, biased and partial manner in dealing with the case of the four gallant lawyers and may well have a hidden agenda.

Third and finally, we will establish that the image of the GBA is fast sinking and that its reaction to this matter involving its members has exposed beyond doubt its apparent partisanship and perhaps, hidden agendas. We will also call on the GBA to return to its noble and traditional role of fighting against intimidation and harassment from any organ of government, including the judiciary.

THE AMJG AND THE GBA HAVE BASED ALL THEIR ACTIONS SO FAR ON RUMOURS

It is quite embarrassing to note that the Association of Judges and Magistrates, an association which says that it represents all the judges and magistrates of Ghana, from the Chief Justice to the lowest Magistrate, and the Ghana Bar Association, made up of persons who rightly call themselves learned, have failed to do the elementary thing of calling for and examining the tape recording or transcript of the proceedings at the said NCCE Roundtable Conference.

The AMJG and the GBA seemed to have chosen to rely on distorted media reports of what transpired at the NCCE event. It is on record that on the evening of the 29th of April 2011, Dr. Raymond Atuguba went on Joy FM to protest the media’s misrepresentation of the statements they made at the event. In the face of this, the AMJG and the GBA did not care to verily the facts they were relying on.

Without determining that the 4 gallant lawyers actually said what was attributed to them in the media, the AMJG wrote a copious complaint to the General Legal Council against the 4 lawyers based on rumours. Similarly, the GBA held many press conferences and interviews, condemning the 4 gallant lawyers, all based on rumours. Again, basing itself on the rumours, the GBA has issued a resolution on the matter.

It is clear that the AMJG and the GBA prefer to rely on rumours, rather than on the verifiable facts in order to prosecute their various agendas.

We challenge the GBA and the AMJG to prove their allegations that the four gallant lawyers have, by their utterances, brought the image of the judiciary of Ghana into some disrepute. We believe strongly that the four gallant lawyers have not said anything which has not already been said by judges and lawyers of the highest order in Ghana, or that is not already known to the general public. We are convinced that if the AMJG and the GBA are able to free themselves from the media jamboree and are able to put on their spectacles of objectivity, they will come to the conclusion that the four lawyers have not done anything wrong as responsible citizens of our dear Ghana.

THE AMJG AND GBA ARE BEING DISCRIMINATORY AGAINST THE 4 GALLANT LAWYERS

We are also forced to come to the unpalatable, but inevitable conclusion that the AMJG and its ally, the GBA, are being grossly discriminatory in their purported venture to preserve the alleged “sanctity” of the judiciary. We come to this conclusion by reviewing some of the statements that have been made by distinguished personalities about the intimidating level of corruption in the judiciary of this country.

The Ghana Integrity Initiative (GII) on May 24, 2007, launched the Transparency International (TI) Global Corruption Report (GCR 2007), with a focus on corruption in judicial systems. An aspect of this report, which focused on Ghana, revealed what is not surprising. The report concludes that the phenomenon of judicial corruption is real and not a mere perception. The report went on to state that “without a bribe, a favourable decision may not be assured”, quoting the direct testimony of lawyers and judges about instances of bribery and corruption in Ghana’s justice system.

At the launch of this report in Accra, the current Chief Justice, Her Lordship Georgina Theodora Wood, the judicial and administrative head of the Judiciary was given an opportunity to make a statement on the conclusions reached in the Report. In her speech, the Chief Justice did not in any way challenge the conclusion of the report. Rather, she affirmed the conclusions, saying that corruption in the judiciary was no longer a perception, but a reality. This is what she said:

“I would like to give a firm assurance to the good people of Ghana that the Judicial Council is committed to using all available resources at our disposal to ensuring that judicial corruption is reduced to the barest minimum.”

This statement alone indicates the Chief Justice’s admission that there is high level of corruption in the judiciary, which she intends to use “all available resources” to “reduce” (not eradicate). This definitive statement about corruption in the judiciary by the Chief Justice is only an echo of what her predecessors have said about the phenomenon.

We further recall that Ms. Gloria Akuffo, in her capacity as the Deputy Attorney-General of Ghana, made a similar statement on no less a platform than at the National Conference of the Ghana Bar Association held in Sunyani in 2001. The then Deputy A-G was quoted in the Ghanaian Times newspaper as saying that:

“corruption has become so endemic in the country's judicial system that some lawyers have come to accept it and even factor in the amount of inducement they give to judges and court officials when determining how much to charge their client”.

Not long ago, the current Deputy Attorney-General, Hon. Barton-Oduro, made similar statements in August 2010, against the judiciary. The learned Deputy Attorney-General also made very specific allegation against a particular judge, Justice Anthony Oppong. However the AMJG did not deem it necessary to petition the General Legal Counsel for disciplinary action to be taken against him.

The AMJG and the GBA, which have shown that they take newspaper reports as the gospel truth, should have dragged the Chief Justice and the Deputy Attorney-General before the General Legal Council and passed a resolution of the GBA against them for stating that lawyers factor bribes into their fees for the purpose of passing the bribes on to Judges. They should also ask them to provide the names of the lawyers and judges involved.

It is clear that Chief Justices and Attorneys-General are immune from the wrath of the AMJG and the GBA. The writing is clear: the AMJG and the GBA are being discriminatory and this leads us to think that the AMJG has a hidden agenda.

Dr. Raymond Atuguba, for example, is a member of the Ghana Bar Association; has paid all his dues since he joined the Ghana Bar Association; is a member of the Legislation and Law Reform Committee of the Ghana Bar Association; and delivered the lecture on “The Legal Profession in Ghana, Local Problems, Global Solutions” at the Annual Bar Conference of the Ghana Bar Association held in Kumasi in September, 2008. Since this matter arose, not a single member of the Ghana Bar Association's officers has approached him for his side of the story.

This may be the first time in the history of the world that an Association, in a situation where its member is accused of wrongdoing, refuses to contact the member, does not find out the veracity of the allegations against him, does not seek to know the side of the story of the member, and issues several statements, publicly and widely, including to the mass media, condemning their member without a hearing and going on to pass a resolution against him.

The AMJG and the GBA will do well to apologise to the 4 gallant lawyers for their rush emotional outpourings and humbly ask for the record of proceedings of the NCCE event, listen to the recording or read the transcript and then come again. After they have done this, they will have to apologise to the 4 gallant lawyers again for punishing them based on the wrong evidence.

The AMJG and the GBA did not have to base themselves on unverified rumours. A private citizen has procured the tapes, listened to them and come to a completely different conclusion from the AMJG and the GBA on what was said at the NCCE event. We have copies of an article written by this ordinary citizen and published in the New Crusading Guide and the Insight newspapers, revealing that there were deliberate distortions of what was said at the NCCE event. We commend him for being impartial enough to go beyond the distorted media reports and unearth the truth. That is what we expect from the AMJG and GBA.

It is clear that the AMJG has a hidden agenda since its actions defy basic common sense. It is time for the GBA to reveal that agenda.

THE IMAGE OF THE GBA IS FAST SINKING

Finally, we state our unequivocal reservations about the conduct and trustworthiness of the GBA in this matter and about its general integrity as an association of lawyers.

As stated above, the GBA waded into this matter without any regard for diligence. First, the GBA failed to gather the requisite evidence surrounding this matter before arriving at a conclusion. For an association of lawyers, this is serious and highly unfortunate. Second, the GBA has failed to avail itself of the boundless opportunities provided it; first by the four lawyers; and second, by the Forum for Governance and Justice (FGJ) to find out the truth about this matter. In this regard, one would have thought that as an Association whose members have been accused of wrongdoing, they would first give a hearing to its members before stating their position on the matter. In an interview granted to Joy FM on Thursday, July 14, 2011, the spokesperson of the national GBA, Mr. Tony Forson, openly admitted that the GBA did not have any encounter with any of the four lawyers on this matter before taking a position. Rather, the GBA preferred to be quick to take a position, which position is uninformed.

The GBA, in the recent past, was known to be an organization, which championed the course of human rights and democracy with a clear aim of liberating the Ghanaian from all forms of intimidation, oppression and harassment. We note the 30-day boycott of the courts by the GBA when it was believed that the judiciary and the executive were harassing Lawyer Mensa-Bonsu. Was the comment of Lawyer Mensa-Bonsu about the judiciary less “damaging” than what the four lawyers are being accused of saying? Did the GBA side with the judiciary when the latter attempted to cow Lawyer Mensa-Bonsu by their unnecessary demand for evidence? One cannot but wonder what has happened to the GBA these days. How can a GBA of such pedigree descent into the culture of intimidation and harassment?

Not long ago, the GBA decided it was not interested in commenting on what it referred to as “political issues”. This resolution, however, only survived the term of a political party in Government. When another political party came to power the GBA quickly transmogrified itself and started engaging on “political issues”. What an animal farm? This unholy somersault by the GBA, we must state, has also led to a drastic loss of confidence in the Association by the general public.

We also recall the sad incident involving Lawyer Nii Osah Mills, the former President of the GBA, who was hounded out of office by the GBA for expressing reservations about the way in which Tsatsu Tsikata was bulldozed into prison without regard to the Rule of Law. All these and more have left one in no doubt that the GBA has lost substantial credibility and needs to wake up as it insulate itself against any undue influence.

We think the issue of these four lawyers has provided the GBA with a very fine opportunity to redeem its fast-sinking image. On this note, we will like to keep company with the Greater Accra GBA in the bold step it has taken to throw its weight behind the four lawyers on this matter. We hope the National GBA will be “bold” to eat humble pie, “fill [their] hearts with true humility” by parting company with the rumour-mongering AMJG and rather join hands with its Greater Accra branch to “cherish fearless honestly” and champion “the course of freedom and of right”.

Signed Dr. Clement A. Apaak Convener, Forum for Governance and Justice - Ghana 020 011 7620

Dr. Samuel C. K. Buame Leading Member, Forum for Governance and Justice - Ghana 024 469 3353

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