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Opinions of Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Columnist: Rii, Jedd

The Guardians of Justice

What is good we must keep.
What is not so good, we must improve
But what is not good, we must ensure that it has no place in our society.

The nation wanted its heroes, but when it came to it, most did not even recognise them. In fact, they nearly had them consigned to ignominy and obscurity in history. That will not be allowed to happen. The nation must protect its own and it must not allow anyone from anywhere to take from it, that which is honourable and the best that can be found anywhere in the world.

Lady Justice Rose Owusu, Justice Julius Ansah, Justice Anin Yeboah, and Justice John Victor Dotse of the Ghana Supreme Court, have really distinguished themselves as world-class judicial personalities.

Before we even consider the logic of the judgements, given by these judges on the 2012 Ghana Presidential Elections, there are two things of which we must be clear: the language of the legal text and the meaning [or interpretation ] of the legal text.

To understand the former, you must be proficient in the language in which the text is written. [ In this instance English ]. It is one of the basic requirement for entry into the study of law in Ghana. However to understand the meaning of the legal text, requires some considerable study, exposure and understanding of the principles of law. It is the confusion and lack of understanding of these concepts that has led to some individuals to level the notion, that failure and or lack of understanding [ particularly of the word “shall” ] prompted these judges to reach the conclusion in finding for Nana Akuffo Addo and the NPP family, aspects of their claim.

First, we will deal with the Language of Legal Text:
The meaning of words, except that which is derived or used in expressing, specific legal context, have no other interpretation, other than the meaning accorded to it, in the language in which it is written. The word “shall” has no derivation in law. In other words, it was not developed for use in law and therefore has no legal interpretation other than its meaning in English. It is subject to the same rules of grammar, in any context in which it appears.

“A Returning Officer shall sign.” in any language means “The Returning officer must sign.”. Anyone who studied English at school will be familiar with the concept, that the presence of the of the word “shall” which is a modal auxiliary verb, sets a condition which must be met before an action is taken. It also follows that the causal link [ the reason for the statement ] usually appears just before or after the clause containing the modal verb. In the text regarding the role or duty of the Returning Officer in an election, the causal link appears a few lines above the statement and says; “the Electoral Commission shall appoint a Returning officer,”.

Therefore, the full text on the role of the Returning Officer is as follows: The Electoral commission shall appoint a Returning Officer and he/she must sign… [ Note: the use of the conjunction “and” means we do not have to repeat the word “shall” ]. To rephrase the sentence, the word “shall”, can be eliminated and the integrity of the sentence, can be maintained by introducing the conjunction “if”. The sentence will then read thus: “If the EC appoints a Returning Officer, he must sign…”.

So now we know, not to accord exoteric or hidden meanings to common words which appear in the language of legal text. Those who were putting out the false notion that somehow the word “shall” had some sort of hidden meaning, which they alone and the judges who dismissed the election petition knew, were only peddling falsehood and ignorance. There is no such thing.

In plain English; the role of the Returning Officer, if one was appointed or present, was to sign and authenticate a document. It was not one of choice but duty imposed by law. The option open to an individual was to refuse the appointment to be a Returning Officer, but once the role is accepted, it was a duty by law which must be fulfilled.

Now, lets get to the meaning of legal text:
The interpretation of legal text or deciphering the meaning of the law in not random. It follows a logical pattern and must make sense at each stage. The primary point to note is the fact that, every law and the text of it, is based or grounded on legitimacy[ by default ], a deviation from which may be an infringement or an offence. It only a lawful reason or basis, which can be considered a legal defence. This premise holds true whether it is stated or implied.

In finding for the petitioners on the aspect of the unauthenticated electoral forms, Justice Julius Ansah stated succinctly in his determination which was severally the basis for the favourable judgements by Lady Justice Rose Owusu, Justice Anin Yeboah, and Justice John Victor Dotse and stated thus:[ paraphrasing ] When it became apparent through evidence presented by the petitioners, that there was an unusually significant amount of unsigned documentation, which indicated that a significant number of Returning officers did not do their duty as prescribed by law, he looked to the Electoral Commission to provide a single lawful basis, on which he could rely to dismiss the petitioners’ claim.

There was none.

Dr Afari Gyan, after spending the nation’s hard earned money on the election, came into court and told the whole world, that the judges should put down those irregularities as administrative mistakes. Some of the judges accepted that explanation, but The Distinguished Lady Justice Rose Owusu, Justice Julius Ansah, Justice Anin Yeboah, and Justice John Victor Dotse did not.

They could not find in law or within themselves any justification for such an excuse as a lawful basis, why a primary function of an election, was not carried out on such a huge scale. Such an excuse, was unacceptable in law, it was unacceptable to them and it is definitely unacceptable to the people of the nation. These four Justices of the Ghana Supreme Court, could not bring themselves to justify actions, which can later be relied on in court, to justify actions which will not be in the interest of the Ghanaian people.

Not withstanding the fact, that there was a finding of irregularity [ Dr Gyan had no lawful excuse ], the four Justices, mindful of the law, that lack of a signature was not sufficient ground to remove the vote of any citizen, decided against any redress which will take away the vote of citizens [ as the petitioners wanted ], and decided appropriately, that they will give the people the chance to tell the nation again, how they voted.

That was world-class judicial know-how and it came from four Justices of the Ghana Supreme Court: The Distinguished Lady Justice Rose Owusu, Justice Julius Ansah, Justice Anin Yeboah, and Justice John Victor Dotse. Everyone should be proud of them.

The manner in which the final verdict of the 2012 election petition was handed down, shows that these four Justices fought tooth and nail for the nation and to ensure that their names can never be used by anyone bent on short-changing the Ghanaian people at any future election. [we will examine that in detail soon ]

So now, you tell me, if the judgements of these four Justices can be termed, as the work of individuals who have no understanding of what they were doing, or even if there is anything about their work, which suggests that they are likely to be flummoxed by a simple English word in the text of the law?

You be the judge.

Jedd Rii.

The first part of this article; The Search for Justice: Setting the Record Straight
was mistakenly credited to Abigail Coleridge as a columnist. The article was written by Jedd Rii and forwarded to GhanaWeb on his behalf by Miss Coleridge.

Coming Up. The Legacy of the Titans.