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Opinions of Sunday, 11 September 2011

Columnist: Sidibe, Abdul Musah

Chief Justice Georgina Wood of Ghana must go

By Abdul Musah Sidibe

Agolu16@hotmail.com

Not so long ago, Dr. Atubuga, the late Larry Bimi and two others received the heavy hammer of the judicial community for suggesting that some judges in Ghana are corrupt. These lawyers were left to dry by the political establishment in Ghana and their media allies simply for exercising their rights to free speech. Not even the Ghana Bar Association lifted a finger to prevent the apparent abuse of power by the Ghanaian judges. As if that is not enough, the bar ordered the four lawyers as they came to be known, to render an unqualified apology to their abusers. Even though the Chief Justice had herself made comments to the effect that there is corruption in Judiciary and studies have shown that the suspended lawyers only echoed what is widely known in Ghanaian society.

After denying these poor souls the right to earn a living in their own country for four straight months, the judicial service recently expelled two judges on the grounds of accepting bribes from parties in cases pending before their respective courts. And a recent taped conversation between one of Ghana’s chief prosecutors and the family of an alleged armed robber also epitomized how deep the corruption in the judiciary had become. Many would see these recent revelations as a vindication of Dr. Atubuga and co. But it goes beyond that; the action taken by the judges in relation to these lawyers in an affront to democracy, human rights, and freedom of every Ghanaian to express him or herself freely without fear. The recent sucking of judges alleged to have taken bribes is nothing short of a face saving measure by the legal establishment to redeem itself from the barrage of corruption and abuse its mix. Sure, there are ways to improve the judiciary to ensure that justice is not sold or bought, but that could not happen under the current Chief Justice. It is against this background that Mrs. Justice Geogina Wood must tender her resignation to the President and leave that office.

The Supreme Court is the final arbiter of last resort in Ghana’s justice system. To the extent that the Supreme Court would willful deny lawful access to aggrieved Ghanaians simply because they dare criticize the institution is unconscionable, unreasonable, and a mark of incompetence on the part of the Chief Justice, member of the Ghanaian Bench and the legal community at large. There are those who argue that judges have the right to recuse themselves in cases they have personal interest. The answer to this unwarranted question is simple, Ghanaian judges cannot all recuse themselves at once in a matter as important as the freedom of speech, the right to work, and matters of corruption even if it involves the institution of the judiciary. Also, in most democracies judges err on the side of caution and those of victims. More so when it involves the activities of lawyers educated in some of the finest institutions in the world trying to educated the public about corruption in the justice system. As a society we shouldn’t allow members of judiciary so much power as to be able to deny the right of habeas corpus and decide who gains access to the justice system and who does not. Access to the judiciary should not be based on the statement of individuals whether such statements were made in public or in private. The Chief Justice’s endorsement of the decision of the Association of Judges and Magistrates of Ghana to recuse themselves in cases involving the four lawyers erodes confidence in her and therefore she must resign from that post.

Already, many prominent Ghanaians have expressed reservation on the circumstances leading to her appointment and the manner the court under her leadership approached certain high profile cases that came before her and the court. On her appointment, she was virtually given that post after she chaired a presidential committee that investigated the MV Benjamin cocaine scandal that exonerated senior government officials implicated in that case. A leaked United States diplomatic cable (wikileaks) on Ghana mentioned the National Advisor of the former President as implicated in the missing 77 parcels of cocaine aboard MV Benjamin. A case Mrs. Justice Georgina Wood Committee had investigated and found no wrong doing on the part of any government official. A few months later she was appointed Chief Justice ahead of very senior judges on the bench, prompting some to resign. The Chief Justice was also involved in the purchase of state land sold to her by the Kufour administration without passing through the appropriate legal tendering process and at less than market value. Even though she subsequently returned the land to the state in shame after it became public, this lack of due diligence and apparent involvement in illegal activities calls in to question her intellectual and moral capacity to lead an impartial and independent judiciary. Therefore she must on the basis that she, alongside many officials in the Kufour administration illegally bought lands belonging to the state, resign as Chief Justice.

Moreover, since she became Chief Justice in June 2007 there is a deliberate and systematic weakening of anti-corruption institutions in Ghana, particularly the Commission for Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ) by judicial fiat. As soon as she assumed office the first high profile case that came before the Supreme Court of Ghana was Anane V. CHRAJ. The case was necessitated by an earlier investigation by the commission that made adverse findings against Richard Anane, a minister of transport in the Kufour led government, for abusing his office and misappropriating states funds at the defunct Ghana Airways office in the United States. Richard Anane then challenged CHRAJ not on the merits or demerits of its investigation, but on an absurd ground that the commission did not receive a formal complaint from anyone in Ghana even though the matter had become public and was a subject of public discussion and concern. The Supreme Court under the leadership of Mrs. Justice Georgina Wood simply upheld Anane’s position without considering the merits of the case or the international practices of Ombudsmen and how they operate. This case raised many eyebrows and some called in to question the relationship between the Chief Justice and the Kufour led NPP government.

Mrs. Georgina Wood actually came very close to imposing a national security crisis in Ghana after the 2008 elections by appointing a judge on a weekend to hear an ex-parte motion preventing Ghana’s electoral commission from declaring the result of the election when it became clear that the presidential candidate of the then ruling NPP was losing that year’s election. There were credible media reports that prior to filing the suit Mrs. Georgina Wood spoke to leading members of the NPP campaign and that she was pressured in to appointing a judge to hear the case even though on that day the court was not supposed to be sitting. Ghana could have had the situation we witnessed in Ivory Coast where political cronies in the judiciary were used an unpopular government to annul the result of an election thus plunging the country in to political turmoil.

Giving what happened after the 2008 election, it is still baffling why the Mills administration allowed the Mrs. Georgina Wood to continue as Chief Justice. Perhaps the government did not want to be seen as intimidating judges. But as we’ve seen in many cases involving the current administration and former officials of the NPP government, the judiciary could be used to intimidate and ridicule government. In some cases it could be used to delegitimize government and state institutions in the eyes of the public. A case in point is the recent refusal by a judge to allow the BNI agents arrest a cocaine suspect on the premises of the court. The NDC government needs to reexamine its relationship with the Chief Justice and certain member of the Supreme Court and the Judiciary at large. The fight against corruption and injustice must not be left at the door steps of the executive, the judiciary must also be subjected to same lenses. There is nothing wrong for the President to call on the Chief Justice to resend the decision by the Association of Judges and Magistrate of Ghana to refuse to hear cases involving the four lawyers, some of whom are members of his party. The President could openly ask the Chief Justice and her elk to resign if they refuse to respect and protect the legitimate rights of others. And just as the President cannot refuse government access to his critics, the Chief Justice must not be allowed to take the rights and liberties of Ghanaians for a ride. The NDC government should also make every effort to reform the judiciary, make the complaint process open and ensure that the judiciary follows the same rules as any institution of governance in Ghana. The NDC government should also ensure that the judiciary follows the procurement laws of Ghana and ask Mrs. Georgina Woods to answer the recent lapses found and reported by the Auditor General of Ghana. She must be made to resign or be impeached if she does not provide government with accurate answers. There is no intimidation in asking member of the judicial service and the Chief Justice to be accountable for their stewardship or leave for better people to be appointed.

Abdul Musah Sidibe is a human rights and free speech advocate currently resident in Calgary, Canada. He is currently a student and an Africa political observer.