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Opinions of Thursday, 6 May 2010

Columnist: Bokor, Michael J. K.

Confronting Ghana's Main Problems: The Judiciary

Part I

By Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor


May 4, 2010

Despite enjoying political stability over the years, the country continues to be plagued with fundamental problems that defy solution. Living conditions are far from favourable because of our leaders’ lethargy, shortsightedness, greed, and selfishness. The political stables are still dirty and complaints are rife against the lapses in the performance of the Executive, Legislature, Judiciary, and the Press, especially.

Buffeted by the harsh realities of their living conditions, Ghanaians are yearning for active, intelligent, and morally upright leaders to improve their living conditions and enhance the country’s democracy. They are calling for leaders who will govern with the collective goals of society and justice in mind.

They regret that for far too long, they have allowed themselves to be misruled by politicians (demagogues) who have minimized the moral dimensions of governance and abused the people’s trust for personal gains. These demagogues are everywhere, making the loudest, ugliest noise for public attention. Their inadequacies in national politics suggest that they are fast disqualifying themselves as role models.

Having already written on the lapses in the Executive and the Legislative arms of government, I intend to take on the Judiciary as a major problem that must be tackled to deepen the country’s democracy. My hope is that the authorities will heed the call for reforms to help the Judiciary serve the cause of justice. Being an integral aspect of a viable democracy, the Judiciary must administer justice expeditiously so as to instill confidence in the citizens that wrongdoing will definitely be punished. If the people lose trust in the Judiciary and can’t seek refuge in the law, there will be disaster. That is not how democracy grows.

Unfortunately for us, our Judiciary hasn’t performed effectively. It has failed to live up to expectation and given cause for concern; it must not be left in this torpor because its lethargy is dangerous for our democracy. Implementing an ass as the law is calls for more than what our Judiciary has given us over the years. There is too much double-dealing in our judicial system.

When we were young, our elders told us stories about lawyers. They said that when lawyers die, their tongues are cut off and their corpses buried without their tongues. The reason? Lawyers are crafty liars.

We believed those stories at that time. Now that we are old, we don’t know whether to believe them anymore; but until some of us examine the physical body of a dead lawyer in the coffin, we will continue to wonder why our elders had such impressions about lawyers or why they chose only lawyers around whom to weave such stories.

Indeed, lawyers are powerful people in our Ghanaian society, having dominated our country’s politics. Their Janus-like appearance is baffling. What are they in reality? Politicians first and lawyers second, or vice versa? Whether for weal or for woe, they have given cause for concern in one way or the other, especially in matters concerning the administration of justice.

Let’s put together all the forces charged with the administration of justice—the Bench, the Bar, the Ministry of Justice and Attorney-General, the Police Service, and the Prison Service—to be able to see the extent to which our judicial system and the mechanisms for dispensing justice are problematic.
Happenings in the Judiciary over the years indicate that it has played a major part in eroding public confidence in itself and cannot escape blame if it is perceived as not working seriously to advance the cause of our country’s democracy.

The lapses in the country’s justice delivery system are not new. Some of them have been with us since the beginning of self-rule and will be difficult to gloss over. Kwame Nkrumah’s era muddied the waters for the Judiciary, especially in the aftermath of the Kulungugu bomb attempt on Nkrumah’s life. Chief Justice Arku Korsah wasn’t left alone to do his work. Then, under Busia, the infamous “No Court” outburst surfaced when the courts ruled against Busia’s selective justice in the Apollo 568 vindictive actions against some civil and public servants (The Sallah’s case).

In the intervening NRC, SMC I and II eras, the inadequacies of the judicial system came to notice. Then, by June 4, 1979, People’s Courts (or whatever one may want to call such an amorphous institution in the 100 days of the AFRC) surfaced and dished out heavy punishment to military officers (death by firing squad) and civilians who were charged with corruption. To date, some people still condemn those trials as a sham and an instrument for perpetrating injustice. The ugly marks of these “Kangaroo Courts” are difficult to erase from the legal system.

The woes of the Judiciary seemed to be accentuated by the advent of the December 31st military intervention. Under Rawlings, the horrendous abduction and murder of the three High Court Judges and Major Sam Acquah in June 1982 added a different complexion to the matter. This barbaric happening will also be difficult to erase from memory.

To date, Corporal Amedeka, the main architect of that barbarism, is alive but no one is doing anything to bring him to trial to tell the whole world the truth once and for all so that anybody connected with that dastardly act and not yet found out and punished could be tackled decisively. The Kufuor government blew unnecessary hot air over the matter but couldn’t get Amedeka out for the truth to be told as to whether Kojo Tsikata and the Rawlingses were the masterminds behind that dastardly act.

If anybody can lay hands on Amedeka to reveal what he knows, I think that the public will be relieved to compare notes with the findings of Justice Crabbe’s Special Investigations Board. Then, we can put a closure to that dark spot in our country’s history. But who will bell the cat? The President, Parliament, or the Judiciary?

We are not yet done. The Public Tribunal System that the Rawlings administration instituted before the 4th Republic was a tool that garnered political leverage for the PNDC but attracted the venom of the Ghana Bar Association, which politicized matters and prevailed over its members to boycott proceedings of the Public Tribunals. We are all aware of the impact of the Public Tribunal System on the society.

Under Kufuor, Ghanaians saw the emergence of the “Fast Track Court” system and how it got shrouded in controversy and political intrigues, especially when viewed against the circumstances under which it surfaced. The NPP government sought a speedy trial for opponents in the NDC and used that avenue to effect. The circumstances surrounding the trial of several functionaries of the NDC by such Fast Track Courts—and their operations generally—attest to the problems of the legal system. The Fast Track Courts are still in operation, although under attack from the “go-slow” virus that has eaten deep into the fabric of the traditional court system and rendered it unattractive.

Indeed, our legal and entire judicial system is sick. Here is an instance. The successful appointment of ex-convict (Dan Abodakpi) as an Ambassador stands tall for attention. Ironically, it has been carried out by President Mills, someone who is acclaimed for his credentials as a Law Professor. If our laws prohibit ex-convicts from holding public office, what sort of justification will President Mills have for glorifying Dan Abodakpi with this appointment?

And the situation is more alarming when one realizes that no Ghanaian even had the courage to take the Executive to court over this matter. Thus, an ex-convict is basking in glory as an Ambassador, making nonsense of our judicial system.

Then again, the recent ruling by the Supreme Court that convicts (prisoners serving terms for willfully flouting the laws of the land) have the constitutional right to vote in elections tops it all up to confirm that our legal and judicial system stinks to the roof!!

Does incarceration upon conviction for committing a felony not deprive the convict of the freedom, rights, and privileges that law-abiding citizens should enjoy? If we are extending these courtesies to those who have willfully chosen to flout the law, what do we want to suggest? That it is dignifying to fall foul of the law?

What is the assurance that the Judiciary is poised to support us grow our democracy? Betty Mould-Iddrissu, Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, may know how to talk about the importance of the Judiciary in enhancing our democracy; but bluntly put, our Judiciary (as it currently functions) is not ready for such tasks. Listen to her:

“The Judiciary ensures our forward march in constitutional rule to avert any serious risk of constitutional derailment. In discharging its foremost duty and mandate to defend and uphold the Constitution, it ensures that the rule of law prevails”, she said at a recent symposium organized by Lawyers in Search of Democracy (LINSOD), a non-governmental organization (NGO).

That role, she added, should be manifested at all levels—“when the Judiciary protects individuals from the impermissible exercise of state power, from the wrongdoing of others, from the strong, the powerless from the powerful”, as well as when it asserts the legitimate interests of the state in deserving cases. She tied it all in with the Directive Principles of State Policy in Chapter 6 of the 1992 Constitution to confirm that the Judiciary has a major role in Ghana’s political life. No one disputes that fact.

What we dispute is that the Judiciary is capable of doing what is being assigned to it. Given the current deep-seated lapses in our judicial system, this constant politically-motivated rhetoric annoys some of us, especially when we don’t see any serious action by government to help the Judiciary stand on its feet.

(To be continued.)