General News of Saturday, 12 January 2013

Source: Daily Guide

NPP Fires First Shot

The much-talked-about case in which the opposition New Patriotic Party (NPP) is challenging the declaration by the Electoral Commission (EC) of John Dramani Mahama as President commenced at the Supreme Court in Accra yesterday, with an objection by the NPP about the composition of the bench.

The nine-member panel, presided over by Justice William Atuguba, accordingly adjourned proceedings indefinitely for the NPP to file a motion challenging the bench’s composition.

Per the court’s directive, the onus now lies on the NPP to file the motion as soon as possible to reactivate the whole process.

The court was due to hear a motion for joinder brought by the National Democratic Congress (NDC) asking the highest court of the land to allow them to be part of the matter because they are an interested party, when the objection was raised by the NPP legal team.

Sources said the NPP objected to Justice Atuguba being part of the panel because of the connection of his nephew, Dr Raymond Atuguba, with the present government.

Dr Atuguba, who is said to have lived with Justice Atuguba, was recently appointed Executive Secretary to President John Mahama, the first respondent in the NPP’s petition, and therefore the petitioners think Justice Atuguba should recuse himself in the interest of justice.

As it is now, the court would have to deal with the NPP’s objection before the NDC motion for joinder could be moved after which the main case challenging the validity of President Mahama would also commence.

The refurbished court room, popularly called Chief Justice’s Court, was packed with both representatives of the ruling NDC and the NPP as well as hordes of security operatives, Supreme Court staff, media personnel and lawyers.

Party sympathisers and others interested in the high profile case, seen by many as a test case for Ghana’s democracy, were kept at bay outside the walls of the Supreme Court, since they were not accredited.

As early as 6:00am, police tanks had surrounded the court building while National Security operatives screened people accredited to observe the proceedings.

The petitioners, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, Dr. Mahamudu Bawumia and Jake Otanka Obetsebi-Lamptey were in court while Johnson Asiedu-Nketia announced himself as representing the NDC.

Kwadwo Sarfo-Kantanka was also in court to represent the EC.

Apart from Justice Atuguba, the other panel members were Justices Julius Ansah, Sophia O. Adinyira, Rose C. Owusu, Jones Victor Dotse, Anin-Yeboah, Paul Baffoe-Bonnie, Sule N. Gbadegbe and Vida Akoto-Bamfo.

The NDC, who were to move their motion for joinder, announced their presence with Tsatsu Tsikata (lead), Samuel Kpodo and Barbara Serwa Asamoah as counsel.

Representing the NPP’s petitioners were Philip Addison (lead), Gloria Akuffo, Frank Davies, Alex Quaynor, Akoto Ampaw, Kwame Akuffo, Nana Asante Bediatuo, Godfred Yeboah Dame, Egbert Faibile and Professor Kenneth Attafuah.

Tony Lithur announced himself to the court as representing President Mahama with Marietta Brew Appiah-Opong and Dr. Abdul Bassit Aziz Bamba as his back-up while James Quarshie-Idun, Anthony Dadzie and Stanley Amarteifio represented the EC.

When the case was called, Philip Addison said “before we commence, there is a matter that we wish to bring to your attention. If you would oblige, we would like to approach your Lordships in chambers.”

Mr. Tsikata quickly stood up and vehemently objected to the petitioner’s request and said the nature of the case was meant to be heard in public as the rules stipulate.

He said since the NPP was the first to call for public hearing in the matter, he did not see the reason why they should turn around to ask that the case be held in camera.

Mr. Lithur associated himself with Mr. Tsikata saying “this is too serious an issue to be heard in chambers,” and asked the court to order the petitioners to “give us an idea”.

Mr. Quarshie-Idun, on the other hand, told the court that the EC had no issue with the petitioners’ request and said they were leaving the matter “entirely in the hands of the court.”

The judges then retired to their chambers for a few minutes to enable counsel to sort the matter out themselves, as regards whether the request should be handled in chambers or in open court.

The legal teams then came together to confer whilst the judges were away and when the case resumed, Mr. Addison said, “We conferred and decided we should have it in chambers” if the court pleased.

Mr. Tsikata then cited CI 74 Rule 69 C (3) saying the court should not permit any aspect of the hearing in chambers. He added, “Having conferred, we do not believe that this should be heard in chambers. It should be in open court.”

Mr. Lithur in affirming the NDC’s position said that “everybody should have a clear view of what is being objected to,” but the EC appeared to have supported the NPP’s position that the objection should be heard in chambers.

“We would prefer that the matter be raised in chambers after that we can hear it in open court if the court decides,” Mr. Quarshie-Idun prayed the court.

At this point, the president of the court, Justice Atuguba, said he had an observation to make.

He said, “I am concerned that there should be at all times a very strong and truly independent judiciary.

He said the “health of the country must be preserved” and “if we don’t have a strong judiciary, we will be gambling with the destiny of this country”.

He noted that if that happened, he would not be part of it and added “I don’t think my colleagues would also be part of it.”

Justice Atuguba then said that the justices had decided to hear counsel in chambers where they would make a decision on whether it was something that should be heard in open court or kept in chambers.

Before retiring to the chambers, he said, “Ghana is a very solid country but it is breaking down because principles are being broken down almost to a pedestrian level.”

He intimated that courts were there for the public and the judges were supposed to be public servants and with the exception that a matter was gravely confidential, it had to be heard in public.

When the justices returned, Justice Atuguba said after conferring with counsel and getting a gist of the case, the petitioners should file a motion to state their claim.

He said the matter related to the composition of the panel and therefore they needed to move a motion for the court to take a decision.

The NPP filed a writ at the Supreme Court claiming that the EC Chairman, Dr. Kwadwo Afari-Gyan, on December 10, 2012 called the results for President Mahama in spite of its claims that the EC needed to investigate alleged manipulation of figures before the declaration of the results.

The NPP’s writ has its presidential candidate Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, running mate Dr. Mahamudu Bawumia and NPP Chairman Jake Otanka Obetsebi-Lamptey as the petitioners.

President Mahama, in his personal capacity as presidential candidate of the National Democratic Congress (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.”