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General News of Thursday, 8 June 2017


Francis Xavier Sosu’s ban: The full story, hidden facts and questions

Human rights and public interest lawyer, Francis Xavier Sosu

On one blistering afternoon in December 2011, in a law office in Ampomah Estates near Oyibi, there was a meeting of two men both named Francis. The older Francis was an ex-convict who had been detained for 14 years and had got his freedom through the Justice for All Programme.

The younger Francis was a human rights and public interest lawyer. That meeting between 43-year old Francis Agyare and 31-year old Francis-Xavier Sosu, marked the beginning of two legal tussles that would, in the end, give Mr. Agyare a hopeful restart to life but bruise Mr. Sosu and threaten his career.

The background

Francis Agyare was arrested in a police swoop on January 5, 1994, at James Town Beach when he had gone there to buy fish for his family. One Fofo Afagadzi, who is now facing life imprisonment, pointed him out as one of his accomplices. Five days later, he was charged with robbery and remanded in prison custody pending further investigations and that was it. “Locked and forgotten!”

When he was released from Prison, Francis Agyare found life unbearable. His only son, Yaw Agyare, who was six at the time of his arrest was now over 20 years but without a meaningful life because he had dropped out of school. His wife had left and there was no one to help him.

Mr. Agyare is said to have attended a programme on suicide held in Accra because he had contemplated suicide in the course of his suffering. At the programme, a Metro TV reporter heard him speak and magnified his story in a news bulletin. After the story, some reporters of the station and other journalists and individuals, who were touched by his plight, decided to help him to get a lawyer to assist him to fight for a compensation. The lots fell on Francis-Xavier Sosu.

Francis Agyare was “peswewaless”. He, together with his son and in-law and some friends from the media, walked into Francis Xavier Sosu’s office empty-handed. He could not pay legal services or any of the expenses in relation to his case. But he was willing to do one thing, which he repeated a number of times to the lawyer – to give half of the compensation to the lawyer if he managed to secure him any.

The legal process, expenses, and fees

On March 27, 2012, the applicant (Francis Agyare) through his lawyer (Francis-Xavier Sosu) “issued a Motion on Notice for Extension of Time within which to apply for Enforcement of Fundamental Human Rights.” This was granted by the court and on November 30, 2012, the applicant filed a motion to enforce his human rights. The applicant prayed the court to declare that his detention was unlawful and that his fundamental human rights had been breached. He, among others, demanded a compensation of GHS 2,000,000.

A little over a month later, on January 8, 2013, Francis Agyare and Francis-Xavier Sosu’s law firm (F-X Law and Associates) entered into a “Legal Fees and Professional Charges Agreement” in which the firm was to be paid “25% of all the monies recovered under the suit including orders for general damages if any” and the “cost and legal fees that will be awarded by the court if any.” The agreement was read and explained to Agyare by Ms. Theodora Shika Klu and he signed. His son, Yaw Agyare and in-law, Kpakpo Oquaye were witnesses.

Francis Agyare filed a complaint against Francis-Xavier Sosu at the General Legal Council

The law firm was to finance every aspect of the case, including all medical examinations, transportation of the lawyers and sometimes the transportation of Francis Agyare and his team. Because of Agyare’s condition, the firm also supported in the feeding of Agyare and his son and paid his medical bills.

Agyare, who was happy about the law firm’s benevolence, is said to have promised to give 10% of the compensation to help the law firm fight for people like him who needed legal services but could not afford. The law firm also suggested that he got someone to manage him and invest whatever he would get from the compensation but he objected to it. These were, however, informal conversations.

In March 2014, an Accra Human Rights court ruled in favour of Francis Agyare. The court awarded a compensation of GHS 200,000 and a cost of GHS 4000. The payment of the compensation delayed, but Agyare kept demanding money from the law firm. The firm said since the case was over, if he still wanted them to take care of him, then they should sign an agreement to that effect. Apart from the general assistance he had been given in the past, the firm would pay him GHS 150 a month until the compensation was paid. To this end, an agreement was signed which entitled the law firm to an addition 10% of the compensation. The legal processes leading to the payment of the compensation were filed and the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning was yet to process the check for payment.

Francis Agyare went for the money for three months and stopped. The relationship between the Agyare and F-X Law and Associates stalled because Mr. Agyare had said elsewhere that the law firm was duping him. He apologised profusely when he was asked about it but he continued to spread the rumours.  By the end of September 2014, communication between Mr. Agyare and his lawyer had stalled until Francis-Xavier Sosu received a letter from the General Legal Council summoning him to answer allegations of misconduct following a complaint filed against him by Francis Agyare.

In his response, Francis-Xavier Sosu said Mr. Agyare’s action was a “desperate ploy to deny us our just financial reward in the event that the compensation is paid.”

“He can keep everything to himself and I will be glad I helped.” F-X Law and Associates stopped following up on the payment at the Ministry of Finance until one day, Francis Agyare called Francis-Xavier Sosu that he (Agyare) had deposited GHS 50,000 into his (Sosu’s) bank account.

According to a statement on the General Legal Council’s website, “Lawyer Sosu was formally charged under Rule 9 (9) of the Legal Profession (Professional Conduct and Etiquette) Rules, 1969 L.I. 613 that he; having assisted Mr. Francis Agyare, in Human Rights litigation in Accra, charged him GH?50,000.00 which was excessive and an over-estimation of the services rendered to him, when he represented to him that he was offering pro bono legal services.” Francis-Xavier Sosu initially pleaded not guilty to this charge.

According to the General Legal Council, “He was also charged under Section 19(5) of the Legal Profession Act that he, having been duly notified, failed to appear before the Disciplinary Committee of the General Legal Council on 9th June, 2016.”

Information this reporter has gathered is that the June 9, 2016, sitting was the 5th since the hearing of the petition against Francis-Xavier Sosu began. He had honoured the previous invitations, but on this date, the Disciplinary Committee had postponed the hearing, which was initially scheduled for June 2, 2016. The meeting was rescheduled for June 9, 2016, with only two days’ notice to Francis Xavier Sosu.

On the said date, Francis Xavier Sosu had a criminal case in a court in Tarkwa in the Western Region so he wrote to the General Legal Council, explaining that he had already committed to the court in Takwa, a reason he could not be available on that day. The General Legal Council received that letter on June 8, 2016, and records of proceedings of the court, which Mr. Sosu attended on June 9, are available. But he was charged for failing to attend and was sentenced.

Francis Xavier Sosu was also charged for personal advertisement and touting. The statement said:

“The Disciplinary Committee of the General Legal Council formally charged Lawyer Sosu under Rule 2(4) of the Legal Profession (Professional Conduct and Etiquette) Rules, 1969 L.I. 613 that he; while acting as Counsel for Torgbui Afede XIV, in a matter between Torgbui Afede XIV and the Chief of Defence Staff, Minister of Interior, Attorney General and another took to Facebook with pictures of the parties and made comments on the case to the public with his firm’s name, address and telephone numbers attached, with the primary motive of personal advertisement and touting.

“He was further charged under Rule 2 (4) of the Legal Profession (Professional Conduct and Etiquette) Rules, 1969 L.I. 613 that he; while acting  as Counsel for Patrick Reynolds Yeboah, in a matter between Patrick Reynolds Yeboah and M.DEX Company Limited Accra, Ledzokuku-Krowor Municipal Assembly (LEKMA) Accra, Ghana Standard Authority Accra, National Road Safety Commission, Accra, took to Facebook posting the Writ of Summons in the said case and made comments to the public with his firm’s name, address and telephone numbers attached, with the primary motive of personal advertisement and touting.” Francis-Xavier Sosu pleaded guilty to the charges of touting and personal advertisement. When he was later called for the continuation of the Francis Agyare case, he changed the plea from not guilty to guilty. This reporter has learned that was done on the advice of some senior in the law profession with the aim of mitigation.

The General Legal Council gave its verdict on June 1, 2017. On the Francis Agyare case, this reporter has learned he was banned from practising as a lawyer for one year.

On the charge of touting and advertising on Facebook, he was banned for three years. He would serve the two sentences concurrently.

“The licence of Lawyer Francis Xavier Sosu to practise for the next three (3) years is hereby withdrawn forthwith.”

The debate

There has been a heated debate since the pronouncement of the verdict on Francis-Xavier Sosu. A majority of the views seem to agree that the punishment is too harsh. But a member of the Disciplinary Committee of the General Legal Council, Sam Okudjeto, seems to agree with them but has an explanation.

“If we are not harsh and tough in disciplining them, then what we are doing is opening the floodgate so everybody can do what they like,” he said.

Another issue that has raised a unanimous agreement among lawyers is the issue of advertising. A number of lawyers have stated that this law is archaic. Lawyer Justice Srem Sai, for instance, stated on Joy FM that the public had the right to know about the law firms available and the kinds of services they offered.

Lawyer Raymond Atuguba also had this to say on on Citi FM: “Every lawyer in Ghana and every law firm in Ghana that is in the business of practicing law constantly breaches the 1960 rules [Legal Profession Act 1960] that govern legal practice in Ghana. When you have such anachronistic rule in operation and everyone is breaching them, then the risk of selective justice becomes very high… If we like your fame and we like your politics, we ignore it when you breach them, but if we don’t like your fame and your politics, we apply them to you strictly when you breach them.”

Another school of thought is also questioning what advertising means in the sense of the General Legal Council and whether many other lawyers are not openly advertising. “Advertising is a means of communication with the users of a product or service. Advertisements are messages paid for by those who send them and are intended to inform or influence people who receive them,” as defined by the Advertising Association of the UK.

Much of the advertisements these days have moved from traditional media to the Internet. On the Internet, advertisements are mainly done on websites or on social media. Francis-Xavier Sosu was charged and sentenced for sharing information that had the intention of advertising himself on social media.

Some have also raised questions about some law firms that have websites.  The General Legal Council allows the creation of websites, but questions have been raised about the content of  those websites and the motives for putting some information on the website. The information on those websites goes beyond what may be termed as an online legal directory. One particular website that has been widely shared and referenced in this argument is the one owned by Sam Okudjeto & Associates, whose founding partner happens to be one of the those who passed judgment on Francis-Xavier Sosu.

Among others, critics have asked why Sam Okudjeto’s law firm would go beyond the address and services of the firm and “boast” about their capacities, competence, and facilities; why the law firm has decided to list its high profile clients on its website and boast of what it has been able to achieve with some of those clients. What is the motivation? To “influence” the audience? To tell the general public that Sam Okudjeto & Associates is the preferred legal firm in Ghana? No? What, then, is the motivation of Sam Okudjeto & Associates? And how different is this on the website from what Francis-Xavier Sosu did on his Facebook page?

Some clients of Francis-Xavier Sosu and the general public have decried the ban because they think it will deprive a number of people who would not have justice but for his intervention. For instance, the minimum charge for the case he recently led Eric Asante, the teacher who was wrongfully jailed for 12 years for defilement at the Supreme Court is 75,000 cedis, according to the current fees by the Ghana Bar Association. But the teacher did not pay a pesewa.

This reporter has learned Francis-Xavier Sosu intends to appeal his ban. It is not clear whether it can be overturned or reduced, but it seems this is an opportunity for the legal fraternity to decide whether or not they want to keep the “archaic” rules which they think are not helpful in this current dispensation.

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