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Opinions of Wednesday, 29 March 2006

Columnist: Adu-Asare, Yaw

CJ Acquah Against Executive Interference in the Judiciary

In a recent unpublished article, I stressed the need for Ghanaians to protect Chief Justice George Kingsley Acquah against intensified attacks from some sections of the corruption-prone elite forces in Ghana.

I indicated in the article that this follow-up would discuss what seems to be interference by the Kufuor administration in the running of Ghana?s Judicial Service headed by the Chief Justice.

I indicated in the unpublished article that appointment of Justice Acquah in 2003 to the position of Chief Justice was a good thing for Ghana because he has turned out to be a fierce and fearless anti-corruption advocate, with authority.

Rather than having the support of the other branches of government and society in general in his fight against corruption in Ghana?s judiciary and crusading anti-corruption messages in his public speeches, Chief Justice Acquah recently has become the target of allegations of malfeasance and bribery.

I cited the speed with which President Kufuor conceded to a petition by an irate legal practitioner for Chief Justice Acquah to be investigated for impropriety in office as one indicator of the executive branch?s interference in the judiciary of Ghana.

I cited also the capping of the Judicial Service?s annual budget request by the Kufuor administration as another form of interference by the executive branch in the judiciary of Ghana; certainly an unconstitutional phenomenon.

This article discusses the issues surrounding Kufuor administration?s interference in the Judicial Service through the ?power of the purse.?

The 1992 Constitution of Ghana barred the executive branch of government from interfering in the operation of the Judicial Service.

Before his appointment to the position of Chief Justice, Mr. G. K Acquah joined his predecessor, E. K. Wiredu and another Justice of Ghana?s supreme court to criticize the Kufuor administration for interference in the affairs of the Judicial Service of the country.

Chief Justice Wiredu was a fierce and relentless defender of independence of the Judiciary, as a branch of government. He resisted interference from both the Executive and Parliament in the running of the Judicial Service, but in the final analysis, he recognized so often that his domain fell to the power of those who pulled the purse strings in government, so to speak.

In his capacity as head of the Judicial Service, Chief Justice Emmanuel K. Wiredu in early 2002 admonished the ministry of finance about what he described as unconstitutional behavior with respect to the budget allocation for the Service.

Chief Justice Wiredu complained to the press in Ghana about how he thought the ministry of finance had neglected the constitutional provision that guaranteed the independence of the financial administration of the judiciary by consistent imposition of ceilings on the budget requests from the Judicial Service.

Chief Justice Wiredu interpreted ministry of finance?s ceiling on budget requests by the Judicial Service as against the smooth and timely delivery of justice.

Justice G. K. Acquah of the Supreme Court viewed the capping of the Judicial Service?s budget by the ministry of finance as interference in its financial administration.

Justice Acquah demanded respect for independence of the Judiciary and declared the behavior of the ministry of finance as unconstitutional.

Article 127 (1) of the 1992 Constitution of Ghana states: ?In the exercise of the judicial power of Ghana, the Judiciary in both its judicial and administrative functions, including financial administration, is subject only to this Constitution and shall not be subject to the control or direction of any person or authority.?

Speaking alongside the Chief Justice and Justice Acquah, another supreme court justice, Ms. Sophia Akuffo, characterized the ministry of finance?s practice of revising the budget request of the Judiciary as inconsistent with Ghana?s constitution. Justice Akuffo cited provisions of Article 179, Clauses 3, 5 and 6 of the Constitution to support her stated observation.

Clearly, Ghana?s 1992 Constitution enjoins the president to submit the budget request from the Judiciary to parliament, without revision. Consequently, the Chief Justice led a delegation from the Judicial Service that met with the president of Ghana to discuss issues concerning the Service, including its budget problem with the ministry of finance.

The minority group in the parliament of Ghana requested and succeeded in having a meeting also with the Chief Justice and his delegation from the Judicial Service. The minority parliamentarians were not happy with earlier meeting between the chief justice and the president ostensibly for discussion of budget problems of the Judicial Service. The Minority promised the chief justice of its intent to work towards independence of the Judiciary and urged him to involve the Legislature in future discussions with the president.

The parliamentary Minority reminded the chief justice that the Legislature had the mandate to approve the budget of the Judiciary.

During a parliamentary debate, the Minority hinted ?that a number of strange developments [were] taking place in the judicial service.? Subsequently, the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) initiated moves to investigate the alleged fraudulent practices in the Judicial Service but ?ran against a blockade mounted by senior officials of the Service.

Meanwhile, Justice G. K. Acquah, before his appointment as Chief Justice, nudged the Kufuor administration to let the Executive, as opposed to the Legislature, take the lead role for investigating the widely held perception of corruption in the Judiciary at that period.

In June 2002, Justice Acquah ?? called for the establishment of a commission to study the country?s criminal justice system (CJS) and to make recommendations for reforms in order to make the system more efficient.? The reforms Justice Acquah spoke about, including upgrade of technological infrastructure of the Judicial Service and training personnel to utilize new devises, required extra financial expenditure.

Article 278 of Ghana?s 1992 Constitution empowered the president to ?appoint a commission of inquiry into any matter of public interest,? by his own initiative, upon advise of the Council of State or by a resolution from Parliament. Nevertheless, there was no evidence of a Presidential Commission of Inquiry into corruption or other matters in Ghana?s Judiciary, during the first Kufuor administration.

In spite of the seemingly conflicting relations between the Executive and the Judiciary on financial matters, the two sides collaborated in the establishment of a Fast Track Court (FTC) system within the administration of criminal justice in Ghana. Both the Attorney General and Chief Justice saw the FTC system as a mechanism necessary for enhancing efficiency in the Judicial Service towards timely delivery of justice. The Supreme Court, on June 26, 2002, upheld the constitutionality of the FTC system after court challenges to the contrary.

As indicated in the earlier article, by far, appointment of Justice G. K. Acquah to the position of Chief Justice was the most positive contribution of the first Kufuor Administration to the Judiciary and Ghanaian society in general.

Whereas Chief Justice E. K. Wiredu was passionate about defending independence of the Judiciary and made useful statements about his anti-corruption stance, he took relatively inadequate action, compared to his successor.

To any objective observer of the Ghanaian social scene, the aggression and enthusiasm shown by Chief Justice Acquah in attacking corruption in the judiciary branch of government, must be enough to incur displeasure and animosity of corruption-dependent elite of the country.

The next article in this series would discuss the content of public pronouncements by Chief Justice Acquah that could win him a pedigree as a social crusader for morality and decorum in Ghana, instead of as a pariah suspected and accused of unproven bribery conduct.

This article is adapted from a forthcoming book (Ghana In Search of Positive Change) by this writer.

Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.