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Opinions of Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Columnist: Agambila, Apaamoore

Judicial corruption - matter of the judges

Recent events involving some judges have created significant levels of confusion with varied opinions. To some, investigative journalism by Anas makes great drama, but this is a dangerous development one that deserves serious criminal scrutiny. Most have seen and heard bits and pieces of the report. Defenders of the judges have sought to craft their defenses in procedural terms. I might be inclined to believe that they are making valid procedural arguments. That notwithstanding, several legal issues remain unresolved.

Some of the judges have sought redress in the courts, challenging the procedural process. However, the five member committee investigating bribery allegations is engaged in a professional process. There are criminal aspects that must be pursued irrespective of the outcome of the committee’s investigations. Current hearings by the committee involves the profession and whether the judges have acted in ways that impugn and malign the profession, rendering them unfit to be judges and lawyers. Normal sequence of events in such instances are as follows. Commence criminal investigations by reviewing dockets, files and all court records involving the accused. Conduct extensive interviews of any and all accomplices, and if credible evidence is found, commence criminal proceedings. Convictions then resolve their professional standing. After convictions, they can then be compelled to abdicate. The current process complicates issues and affords the accused several avenues to claim that they are innocent. The worst out come, and one that’s foreseeable, is the committee recommending the prosecution of a fraction of those involved and calling it a day. Case closed. That has to be intolerable!

Courts play a central role in the judicial process. The judiciary is a macrocosm of the country. Any perception that courts don't dispense justice disrupts the social structure. Why should one submit to a court's jurisdiction if the ultimate outcome is determined by financial inducement? Most courts in Ghana are replete with land and chieftaincy disputes. Why should litigants subject themselves to the jurisdiction of these courts if there is no semblance of justice? There's a moral and judicial imperative to thoroughly investigate not only the accused but the entire court system. It has to be cleansing time, and those found to have transgressed excised from the judiciary. This is not the time to gloss over this report. Ineptitude could be tolerable but dispensing justice to the highest bidder is indefensible.

For several years, Ghana’s judicial system has been a mess, and most have resigned themselves to operating within its flawed and dysfunctional parameters. To some who patronize the courts, corruption is intrinsically interwoven in the judicial process. It is not uncommon for cases to outlive litigants. I have seen decisions that strain credulity, seemingly derived from factual impossibilities. Some decisions have been so poorly crafted, that they range from the ridiculous to pedestrian. That some courtrooms are replete with corrupt practices is an understatement. To most outsiders, Ghanaian courts have no credibility, and have become a cesspool of endless frustration.

As an initial matter, there might be sufficient evidence independent of Anas’ report to either corroborate or absolve those involved. Any process forward should include, at the minimum, the following: A thorough review of every case handled by those involved for the last 5 years; scrutiny of every disposition, looking at the legal basis of acquittal or favourable decision; interviewing under penalty of perjury, all those acquitted or the recipients of favourable decisions; immunity to all who agree to testify. Most of those involved had known middlemen, who are indispensable in any pending investigations.

Any investigation by the judiciary should not be conducted to the exclusion of law enforcement agencies. Improprieties and malfeasance may become evident with diligent and thorough reviews of dockets and related court records. A review may be exculpatory or could result in culpability. If sufficient evidence is found to indict and convict, then any outcome short of punishment prescribed by law undermines the judicial system. An important aspect of punishment is deterrence. Failure to ensure complete enforcement may embolden others to commit further breaches of the judicial process. This is an opportunity for the authorities to demonstrate an unbending willingness to eradicate malfeasance and reform the judiciary.

Anas' investigation of corrupt practices highlights another problem inept security agencies. It underscores an irrefutable fact that the government's various investigation and security agencies are a waste of state resources. There are private security agencies that would have done a comparatively decent job. How did such malfeasance fester under their watch? Why were claims of corruption in the judiciary and other government bureaucracies never investigated by these agencies? Maybe because no livestock was stolen? Perhaps the theft of a goat may have drawn their attention.

If these claims are proven, the ultimate outcome may be murkier. Did these judges set criminals who should have been incarcerated free to loot, rape and pillage innocent citizens? Were some accused persons incarcerated because they were too poor to buy their freedom?. How much financial loss did the government incur? Were the award of some judgment debts financially induced? What happened to those who illegally appropriated land of lawful owners with judicial complicity and have now built on them?
We just can't extrapolate and quantify the potential social and economic injury caused by corrupt practices.

Because of the existence of credible demonstrable evidence of judicial corruption, the arrest and prosecution of a couple of judges is insufficient. An investigation of the entire judiciary and the creation of a functional system that prevents future breaches is warranted. Token justice is not desirable.

Dr. Apaamoore Agambila
New York, USA