You are here: HomeWallOpinionsArticles2013 07 05Article 278741

Opinions of Friday, 5 July 2013

Columnist: Kofi Thompson

Judges in Ghana do not pose a threat to free speech

The judges hearing the 2012 presidential election petition do not pose a threat to fee speech in Ghana.

Such is the importance of the matter before them, that they have a duty to ensure that their constitutional role as arbiters of disputes in society, is not undermined, under any circumstances.

If in protecting the authority and dignity of the Supreme Court - vital ingredients in the manifestation of the independence of the judiciary as a countervailing power in our democracy - they have to use their power to sanction those who make prejudicial comments on the matter before them, which could undermine public confidence in their ability to arrive at an impartial verdict, it should not be misconstrued as a curtailment of the freedom of expression in Ghana.

Media houses in Ghana have a responsibility to ensure that journalists in their employ, who file reports for them on proceedings in the law courts, understand clearly the rules governing what can and cannot be published in a newspaper, or aired in a radio or television programme, about court cases being heard by judges in Ghana.

Whiles one has sympathy for Mr. Ken Kuranchie and Mr. Atugubi on a purely human level, those who have the privilege to write in newspapers and take part in radio and television discussion programmes, must always remember that they must never make statements that either undermine the judiciary or are likely to lead to instability in Ghana.

Above all, the time has come for those involved in politics in Ghana to be more responsible in what they say in public. Nothing must be done or said by them that could lead to chaos and violence in Ghana.

We must all help to preserve Ghana's international reputation as a haven of peace and stability in sub-Saharan Africa.

That global reputation inspires confidence in our nation amongst investors who seek emerging markets to invest in - and it is investment that creates jobs for Ghanaians.

The right to free speech ought not to be taken advantage of, to make irresponsible statements that cause fear and panic in society, as well as have the potential to destabalise our nation - whiles undermining public confidence in our democratic institutions.

Although it is not a perfect system of government, constitutional democracy is better than all the other systems of government known to humankind, because it is underpinned by the rule of law, guarantees the liberties of the citizenry, gives them the right to elect their leaders and to hold those leaders to account when elected.

We must protect Ghanaian democracy from those irresponsible individuals whose deliberate carelessness in what they say in public could end up destroying it.

No well-trained journalist who is professional and ethical in his or her work, need worry about being sanctioned by any judge in Ghana, in reporting court cases.

In demanding responsible comment from the public, about the 2012 presidential election petition before them, the panel of nine judges are not curtailing freedom of expression in Ghana.

On the contrary, in sanctioning those who comment in irresponsible fashion on the election petition before the Supreme Court, in a manner likely to undermine public confidence in the judiciary, ultimately, the nine judges hearing that case are protecting the freedom of ordinary Ghanaians - and in essence ensuring their right to continue living in a peaceful and stable nation.

Privileged individuals who are either so power-drunk, or so lustful for political power that they are prepared to make irresponsible public statements, regardless of the fact that what they say could lead to widespread chaos and violence in Ghana, pose a real danger to society.

If judges can make an example of such individuals, and stop others from following in their footsteps, when the opportunity to do so presents itself to the judiciary, that should never be misconstrued as a threat to freedom of expression in Ghana. Under our system, judges in Ghana do not and can never pose a threat to free speech.