General News of Friday, 24 June 2005

Source: Graphic

Let?s Debate On Number Of Supreme Court Judges

A former Speaker of Parliament, Mr Justice D.F. Annan, has called for intense public debate on the ceiling to the appointment of judges to the Supreme Court as recommended by the Panel of Eminent Persons of the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM).

He said that "the appointment of judges to that high position is presently open-ended and there are always problems with such open-ended appointments."

Explaining his reason for the call in an interview, he said, ?Because the appointment of Supreme Court judges is an entrenched provision in the 1992 Constitution, it would require a referendum to change or maintain it.?

Mr Annan admitted that referenda were expensive to conduct and said the debate could help the people to appreciate the issues better and, thereby, reduce the cost of educating the people on the matter ahead of it. The APRM recommended to Ghana to have an upper limit to the number of appointments to the Supreme Court.

Presently, there is no upper limit to the number of appointments to the court and the issue has generated some public debate over the years. Article 128 (1) of the 1992 Constitution provides that ?The Supreme Court shall consist of the Chief Justice and not less than nine other justices of the Supreme Court.?

Now there are 13 justices of the Supreme Court, including the Chief Justice. Asked whether it would not be too expensive for the government to organise a referendum at this time to correct the issue, Mr Annan said ?democracy is expensive and once we have chosen to go that way, we should be prepared to bear the full cost of it.?

He said Ghana?s democracy was growing and deepening and if there was anything to do to make it more enduring, it should be done, no matter the cost. Mr Annan said the appointments, as they stood now, gave room for suspicion, adding that since there was no ceiling, the appointments could be manipulated to a advantage of a ruling government which was not prepared to demonstrate good faith in its actions.

He said Ghana had reached a high stage in its political realm and should, therefore, not leave room for doubt in people?s mind.

Meanwhile, some commentators on the matter had argued that there was no basis for the APRM to have commented on the appointments to Supreme Court.

They argued that before any amendment was sought to a provision, there was the need to establish whether the current provision had any effect on the people and the economy as a whole.

They said it was not necessary to waste time on what they described as a matter that had no bearing on national development.

However, others were of the view that the current state of affairs regarding appointments to the Supreme Court gave the government room to manipulate the judicial system to its advantage.

To buttress their assertion, they cited, for instance, the famous February 28, 2002 case in which the Supreme Court, by a 5-4 decision, ruled in favour of Mr Tsatsu Tsikata, a former Chief Executive of the Ghana National Petroleum Company (GNPC) who had challenged the constitutionality of the Fast Track High Court.

The ruling subsequently forced the government to call for a judicial review of the earlier ruling.

They said before the case was reviewed, the government promoted the late Mr Justice Kwame Afreh to the Supreme Court to increase its number and when the case was finally reviewed, the earlier verdict was overturned in favour of the government.

The commentators, therefore, noted that to stop a recurrence of a similar instance, there was the need for the country to have a ceiling to the number of Supreme Court judges that could be appointed by the President.