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Opinions of Friday, 16 August 2013

Columnist: Sarfo, Samuel Adjei

Supreme court or supreme gods II



By now, even those supportive of the Supreme Court’s jailing of some prominent Ghanaian journalists for expressing their opinion on the ongoing election petition should be scratching their heads about the latest punishment meted out to Sir John, and Hopeson Adorye for expressing unpalatable views about the on-going election petition. Sir John has been slapped with three thousand Ghanaian cedi fine or in the alternative, six months in prison while Hopeson Adoye has two thousand cedi fine on his head or three months in prison. Sir John had described Justices Atuguba as selective and hypocritical in their dispensation of justice while Adorye threatened that heads will roll should the justices fail to return a verdict favorable to the NPP.

Some Ghanaians, including very notable lawyers supported the justices’ action, citing the need to keep the public peace. To these people security trumped liberty, against the very grain of Benjamin Franklin’s often-quoted assertion that those who give up their liberty for more security neither deserve liberty nor security. But in the face of the ongoing onslaught on the liberties of certain Ghanaian citizens at a time when the stability of the country is under no imminent threat, what other excuse will people give to justify the court’s Draconian posture? In other words, how are these statements made in the past capable of disturbing the national peace?

The second question is the constant reference to Atuguba’s so-called touchline. When did Atuguba’s word become law in Ghana? Should the mere fact that he gave a warning to silence criticism be the reference point as to whether people were found to be contumacious? What about the eternal laws of the country enshrined in our sacred constitution? What about due process and the rule of law and the liberties guaranteed to the mass of the people? After half century of obscurity and latent obscurantism, Atuguba now finds himself at the center of stardom, having been selected to adjudicate a case of unprecedented importance in the political history of Ghana. And the man is simply milking the opportunity to stay in the limelight as long as possible. He and his fellows have failed to expeditiously adjudicate a case that should take no more than a couple of weeks to deal with. Now he is usurping executive power by making himself a veritable dictator, a person whose word is law, relishing in imposing unreasonable punishments on others for expressing their opinions, and denying people of due process much against established constitutional processes. If this is not a voodoo deity, then who is?

Given that Atuguba can hardly express himself in intelligible English, one wonders what type of legal argument and judicial precedent he would have used to justify his verdict were he challenged to detail such argument in a written opinion. And given his clear ignorance of the nature and scope of freedom of speech, one wonders if the man reads any law books beyond his caveman’s texts acquired two score years ago. And all these should not be surprising about the character called Atuguba, having achieved fast-track promotion through dubious appointment by a leader whose grasp of the law was virtually non-existent. Indeed, if one looks at the comedy of amnesia being put out by former Justice Kpegah, one is not left in doubt that our justice system is inhabited by half-baked scholars who were imposed on the country by leaders who had no vision of qualitative justice for Ghana.

But one must not blame Atuguba too much. The real culprits are those so-called legal luminaries who have gone underground to allow such judicial indecency to thrive in the country. We have a comedy of judicial genuflection where lawyers who should know better, instead of arguing facts and law, are kowtowing before the awful throne of the god Atuguba, asking him to tamper justice with mercy. Even the president of the republic is living in constant fear of being summoned, having himself made several statements deemed contemptuous of the high court. How long is this charade going to last?

Given the recent Supreme Court’s penchant to be grossly punitive against those whose comments it sua sponte finds to be unpalatable, one can say that the court is now evolving to assert morbidly absolute power. What is amazing though is the broad range of support that the court’s illegality has garnered among the Ghanaian legal elite and the general public. As if by some mass hypnoses or delusion, the Ghana Bar Association, lawyers on both sides of the ongoing petition, respected legal luminaries as well as traditional and opinion leaders have collectively supported the court’s exercise of untrammeled power and its quest to silence all those whose statements it deems contumacious. That support gives cause for concern because it exposes the analytical hiatus within the Ghanaian society and throws into doubt our commitment to democratic principles and the protection of the fundamental human rights purchased by us through decades of struggle against dictatorship and tyranny.

The most enviable ability of a lawyer is his/her ability to establish logic in the maze of convolution, to draw similarities and differences in thoughts and actions, to delineate the relevant from the otiose and to infer a testament of sense from the hay stack of nonsense. But this ability appears to be totally absent in the Ghanaian legal elite whose modus operandi before the Supreme Court is to engage in the circus of servile genuflection. How do we then test the strength of the law in the context of the judicial power grab by Atuguba and his gang of rogue judges?

The whole country should bow its head in shame for allowing the Supreme Court judges to exercise this untrammeled power over the people, and everyone who has participated in the subservient act of despicable begging should answer to history for cowardice and sheer ineptitude. Those who are afraid to tell the truth will never escape the shackles of falsehood, and those who have stood in support of this judicial charade will soon fall victim to its scourge. When the history of this country’s jurisprudence comes to be written, mountebanks like Atuguba and his clique will be cited among the cast of characters for judicial embarrassment while those with the courage to stand up to the prevailing nonsense will retain the status of judicial saints.

In my doctoral dissertation at law school entitled “The US Supreme Court’s decision in Snyder v. Phelps: Subverting the Hierarchies in the First Amendment Rights to the Freedom of Speech”, I sharply criticized the US Supreme Court for abandoning its judicial nomenclature in denying justice for a soldier who had been harassed to his death for being gay. I have stood in court to challenge judges for being biased and obstructionists to my causes of action. I have never been questioned for questioning the wisdom of the Supreme Court of the USA or any court for that matter. Rather, I have been openly admired for my courage and aggressiveness as a lawyer. I now know that in my own country, I could be jailed for expressing my opinion about judges. What a comedy of contradictions!!

Samuel Adjei Sarfo, Doctor of Law, is a General Legal Practitioner resident in Austin, Texas. You can email him at