You are here: HomeWallOpinionsArticles2015 08 24Article 377313

Opinions of Monday, 24 August 2015

Columnist: Cameron Duodu

Well Done, Attorney-General’s Department

I am pleased that the Attorney-General’s Department has filed an application at the Accra High Court, praying the Court to set aside the 10-year prison sentence imposed on Charles Antwi by Mr Justice Francis Obiri on July 28, 2015.

The appeal is welcome because the current trend in this country is that government departments not to pay the slightest heed to public opinion.

Secondly, the judgement in question was so bad that were it to prevail, it would constitute a blot on the administration of justice in the country.

Finally, the judgement was so bad that it would have undermined the work being done at our universities and the Ghana School of Law to impart a true knowledge of jurisprudence to their students.

I mean – a guy sweats a lot, after obtaining his first degree, to pass his entrance examination to the Ghana Law School. He sweats even more profusely to pass his exams and become qualified to practise as a lawyer in the courts of Ghana.

Then he goes to court to practise law. And he meets a judge like Mr Justice Francis Obiri.

He sees Mr Obiri conducting a case brought before him in a manner that rubbishes everything he has been taught. The judge does not know that if a person gives the appearance of being of unsound mind, his plea must not be taken.

For the case to go ahead, the judge must first send the accused person to a psychiatrist hospital, where a qualified psychiatrist would put him through tests to establish his true condition of mind. It is only when a competent psychiatrist has certified that the accused person is of sound mind that his trial can begin.

Mr Justice Obiri also said that he had listened to the accused person and was satisfied that the accused was ‘confident’ in what he said!

Shock horror! Does being ‘confident’ about what one says mean it cannot be nonsensical? If that were so, we would have, ages ago, seen the fulfilment of the prophesy often made by psychotics that “The end of the world is nigh!”

But that aside, a judge simply cannot transform himself into a psychiatrist. What would a newly-qualified lawyer make of that? If a man who had successfully passed through years of legal instruction and had practised in the courts of the land enough to be adjudged competent to sit as a circuit court judge, could make such elementary mistakes, then what was the point of legal education? All that sweating at the Law School?

And look also at that change of plea by Antwi from “Not guilty” to “Guilty”. What pressure can result from this sort of advice: “Change your plea, because your case is so “weak” that a plea of “Not Guilty” can only earn you a harsher sentence, you hear?” Innocence be damned!

It was almost like something that was happening in the inferior, traditional courts of yesteryears, where a plea of “guilty with explanation” was almost always accepted. It was the forte of semi-literate court registrars.

No – If the judgement had remained unchallenged, it would have set a very bad precedent for the prosecution of cases before the country’s courts. Even in places like Britain, where miscarriages of justice are rare, one or two judges used to get the reputation of being a “hanging judge” during the days when the death penalty was still legal). So just imagine lazy prosecution officers in Ghana being able to say, “Let’s send him to this or that court! They will bang him in!”Would it not undermine the administration of justice altogether?

With regard to the inflexible attitude adopted by government departments to matters about which the public clearly expresses unease, we have the evidence before our very eyes right now. Here is a government that is in dispute with the doctors I employs, over their conditions of service. Negotiations begin. But the government seeks to crush the doctors by all means, in order to demonstrate that it is a macho government. So it leaks the proposals which the doctors have sent to it. When that fails to win the argument, the government threatens the doctors with the mass importation of doctors from Cuba.

But has the government tried to find out what the relationship is between what the Cuban government pays its doctors and what it pays its ministers and deputy ministers? Has the government bothered to study the history of medical education in Cuba? Is it aware that when Castro took over power in 1959, many doctors left the island and that the new ones who were trained subjected to a socialist orientation in an economy in which whatever the country had was shared equitably? Does Ghana, with its IMF-inspired economic policy based on “market forces,” think our society is akin to a socialist society?

Our president now says that he is no longer “a dead goat” but a “living” one. Well, he’d better apply a “living goat” approach to the doctors’ issue. For the Cubans cannot be in Ghana for ever. In any case, so many people and institutions that are aware of the hardship caused by the impasse l have appealed for an equitable settlement of the dispute that to ignore them and continue with the machismo policy will cost the Government dear in the long run.

The Attorney-General’s Department, in appealing against the Francis Obiri decision, is exhibiting an attitude which other arms of government would do well to emulate. As the saying goes in one of our proverbs: “If you didn’t hear what was said the first time, do go back and listen again!”

In a word: Sankofa!

Does our government realise that this ancient principle is embedded on our Sword of State and our presidential chair, for instance?

That emblem is not there for nothing.

Join our Newsletter