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Opinions of Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Columnist: Anteh, Nii Ayi

The Law In The Hands Of The Few, How Safe Are We?

“Take all the robes of all the good judges that have ever lived on the face of the earth, and they would not be large enough to cover the iniquity of one corrupt judge” - Henry Ward Beecher
The Judges and Magistrates’ Association, an association of all judges and magistrates in Ghana has blacklisted Dr. Raymond Atuguba and three other lawyers until the General Legal Council impress upon these personalities to substantiate allegations of corruption they labeled against the Judiciary in Ghana. To make good their threat, nine Supreme Court judges on Thursday refused to hear a case involving two citizens of our land just because the plaintiff’s lawyer happens to be Dr. Raymond Atuguba, one of the four. These are facts underlining the current controversy involving our judiciary and the justice delivery system in Ghana.
As a citizen of this country and somebody who advocates for the rule of law, I find the act of the nine Supreme Court judges very disturbing and an attempt to toy with the laws of our land. Indeed, the entire action of the Judges and Magistrates’ Association in my view is unwarranted and clearly one that is without any moral merit.
By their position, they seem to deny persons who come before them in our courts legal representations of their choice and this is not on the side of the law which is paramount in the delivery of justice in this country. As witnessed in the case of Dr. Raymond Atuguba’s client, his case will not be heard, at least not until the intervention of the General Legal Council. Should Sumaila Biebiel, the plaintiff has any desire of seeing the conclusion of his case, which has already travelled a two year span, the Supreme Court judges are saying he shouldn’t hire the services of Dr. Atuguba or any of the three others. Mr. Sumaila Biebiel is by extension being deny his right to a legal representation of his choice. And it is very worrying to admit that it is being perpetuated by the very group of people who we look up to as a nation to protect the rights of all citizens.
Further, our judges by their action of boycott before these 4 lawyers appear before the General Legal Council have loudly proclaimed their endorsement of the unfortunate phenomenon of “instant justice” of the accused. The revered legal principle that an accused person is “innocent until proven guilty” (Ei incumbit probatio qui dicit, non qui negat) as respected in many nations has been thrown to the dogs in Ghana by the very people we expect to uphold it. What happens in the event that the clients of some of these lawyers change them because of this issue and the General Legal Council later finds the lawyers “not guilty”? Haven’t these judges deny the lawyers their right to work?
Over the weekend I have heard many commentators on varied platforms creating the impressions that judges have the right to excuse themselves from cases and therefore the nine Supreme Court judges were right in refusing to hear the case brought before them by Sumaila Biebiel. What most of this commentators failed to understand is that, the judges right to abstain from a case only comes into play when there is a potential issues of conflict of interest. That aside, a judge is bound by his profession and calling to at all times hear a case that is duly brought before him or her (I stand for correction).
The call on Dr. Atuguba and the three others is a call in the right direction. The General Legal Council should go to all length to ensure that these lawyers substantiate their claims. However, until the full exhaustion of the issue and final decision taken, our Supreme Court judges and for that matter judges in the country have no right to take the law into their own hands.
Should a single judge be found wanting in the corruption measurement, I am of the firm opinion that one can make a fair deduction that “there is corruption in the judiciary”, exactly the position of these lawyers. The judges should come off their “high horses” and let their conduct in the delivery of justice in our courts prove these lawyers and many Ghanaians who share similar opinions with the lawyers wrong. They have no right to deny the ordinary Ghanaian his rights because of the opinion of a lawyer.
I expect to hear from the Ghana Bar Association strongly condemning the action of the Supreme Court judges in particular and that of the Judges and Magistrates’ Association in general. If the Bar Association is worth its salt, this is the time to stand on the side of the law. This is the time to make their position in our national discourse count.
I call on the Chief Justice to call the Judges and Magistrates to order. The law is not their puppet to be toyed with as they please. Sumaila Biebiel deserves justice and so are the other clients of these lawyers.
I rest my case, God bless our homeland Ghana

Nii Ayi Anteh
Ledzokuku Constituency
Teshie, Accra.