The President, Nana Akufo-Addo and his Attorney General (AG) and Minister for Justice, Godfred Yeboah Dame, have descended on ex-President John Dramani Mahama separately, hitting him over his recent call for fairness in decisions by the judiciary.
Strangely, the two ignored similar calls from the National Security Minister, Albert Kan-Dapaah, that warned that the perception that the judiciary is biased has dire consequences on the country’s security, warning if this is not checked, it will compel the citizenry to take the law into their own hands for personal satisfaction with the bench deemed biased.
Speaking at a sensitisation workshop on the national security strategy for judges of the superior courts in April this year, Mr Kan-Dapaah, stated that “Injustice occasioned as a result of the absence of an effective justice delivery system or delayed justice or biased justice is certainly a threat to national security.
“Indeed, when injustice abounds, particularly in situations where the bench, which is considered the final arbiter of disputes, is deemed biased, citizens tend to take the law into their own hands most times without recourse to the established systems of justice delivery,” he said.
He added, “If the interpretation of the law is tilted in our favour all the time, people will start accusing the judiciary and will not have the confidence that they need.”
These comments preceded President Mahama’s admonishing at the National Democratic Congress (NDC) Lawyers’ Conference, on Sunday, 28 August 2022, that the image of the country’s judiciary had deteriorated saying this has led to a decline in public confidence in the judiciary.
“So badly has the image of our Judiciary deteriorated that many of our citizenry openly make mockery of our justice system and of our justices. The phrase ‘Go to Court’ is these days met with derisive laughter, instead of hope that one will truly get justice”.
“There is, therefore, the urgent need for the Ghanaian Judiciary to work to win the trust and confidence of the citizenry, and erase the widely held perception of hostility and political bias in legal proceedings at the highest courts of the land”, the former President suggested, adding it will only take a new Chief Justice to chart a path of regaining public trust in the judiciary.
“Unfortunately, we have no hope that the current leadership of our judiciary can lead such a process of change. We can only hope that a new Chief Justice will lead a process to repair the broken image that our judiciary has acquired over the last few years,” Mahama said at a forum held for lawyers of the NDC on August 28.
However, while addressing lawyers at the Ghana Bar Association Annual Conference in Ho on Monday, 12 September 2022, President Akufo-Addo asked the people of Ghana to say no to persons who have made it their passion to make disparaging remarks against the Judiciary and the Electoral Commission (EC) for selfish, parochial and partisan reasons.
According to President Akufo-Addo, “Just as Government continues to implement policies to advance the rule of law, and, thereby, reinforce the confidence of the people, and shore up our nation’s reputation as a country governed by the rule of law, there are some who have made it their political agenda to disparage systematically the image of the Judiciary for selfish, parochial, partisan reasons.”
He stated that “These are the plaintiffs, who go to Court, indeed, to the highest court of the land, provide not a single shred of evidence to back their claims, and, yet, insist that their claims be upheld, despite the elementary violation of the ancient, common-law rules for the discharge of the burden of proof that such a result would entail.”
The President continued, “It is no wonder that their claims were unanimously dismissed 7-0 by the apex court. The result of this case is in stark contrast to the result of a similar one in 2013, when the unsuccessful plaintiffs managed to persuade four (4) out of a nine (9) member court to find for them, and, yet, the earlier plaintiffs chose not to wage a political war against the court.”
President Akufo-Addo made this known on Monday, 12th September 2022, when he delivered the keynote address at this year’s Bar Conference of the Ghana Bar Association.
He told Members of the Bar that Ghana is governed in accordance with the rule of law, and not on the basis of political considerations.
“It is important that all of us, especially us lawyers, who cherish the democracy we are building, say no to such persons, and guard jealously our democratic way of life, which we have done so much to bring into being. Independent judges, administering the law, protecting the human rights of citizens, and ensuring public accountability, are strong pillars of our democracy,” the President added.
Just as an independent Electoral Commission, noted for its efficiency and the transparency of its dealings, is one other such pillar, President Akufo-Addo noted that the Commission is, predictably, the object of the same anti-democratic attacks as the Judiciary.
“Mercifully for all of us, these attacks have not shaken the confidence of the people in these institutions. Genuine democrats should devote their energies to finding ways and means of strengthening the democratic institutions of our Republic, instead of expending profitless time in undermining them,” he stressed.
On his part, Mr. Yeboah Dame who was addressing the same gathering, described ex-President Mahama’s concerns about the judiciary as embarrassing and unjustified.
“It was a great dismay and embarrassment that, I heard a person who has occupied the highest office of state that is the former President recently launched an unwarranted attack on the integrity of Ghana’s Judiciary. I observe that, this was the latest installment of systematic attack by the former President, albeit unjustified,” Mr Dame said.
According to the AG, the former President’s comments dints the image of the judiciary.
“I am compelled to comment on same in this address because they border on the security of the state and constitute a deliberate pattern of conduct aimed at undermining the independence of the Judiciary, an arm of government whose autonomy is crucial to its proper functioning”.
The AG further described the former President’s conduct as “deplorable.”
“Such conduct is clearly deplorable, coming from one who has occupied the highest office of President and aspires again to that office. At this moment, it is important for all to note that I express this sentiment not because I stand in opposition to former President Mahama as a politician.”
Interestingly, the Chief Justice, Kwasi Anin-Yeboah at the event cautioned politicians and lawyers alike to be measured in their utterances against the judiciary.
In comments read on his behalf by Justice Jones Dotse (Jsc), the CJ recalled how three High Court judges were gruesomely murdered in 1982 as a reason why utterances needed to be measured and charged politicians against commentary that puts judges in harm’s way.
“We in Ghana have had a chequered history. We have had three distinguished judges of the High Court abducted and killed. We celebrate this incident since it occurred. I have made sure if I am in the country, I always attend these functions. As lawyers, we should not make careless comments and remarks that will revisit the occurrences of 1982.
“I, therefore, entreat all of you to be very very circumspect in making very dangerous comments about the judiciary. I am not saying so because I am a judge because once you are in it, you are in it. But then comments from members of the bar and senior politicians should be such that we are not…judges are not put up for sale by those who want to cause commotion and confusion in the country,” Justice Jones Dotse said.
Three High Court Judges as well as a retired army officer were murdered in cold blood at the Bundase Military Range in the Accra Plains, after being abducted on the night by some unidentified assailants on June 30, 1982 – a date now set aside as Martyr’s Day.
The four were Mrs. Justice Cecilia Koranteng-Addo, Mr. Justice Kwadwo Agyei Agyepong, Justice Fred Poku Sarkodie and Major Rtd. Sam Acquah.
Mr. Mahama has since responded to Godfred Yeboah Dame in particular on the perception about the country’s judiciary saying as a former President, it is his duty to speak on such matters, so the AG cannot take away that right from him.
Speaking in an interview with Accra-based TV3, Monday, September 12, Mr Mahama said: “The Judiciary is the last arbiter.
“We can disagree, and we can have quarrels in Parliament eventually when we are unable to agree, we all go to the justice system and we must have confidence that it will do fairly and will do so according to the law and in the public interest that’s all I was saying.”
Mr Mahama wondered if being a former President means being exempted from commenting on issues of national interest, particularly when things are going bad.
“So how he can interpret that to mean that I was imprudent and bla bla bla. So if you are a former president and you see something going on in the country you have no right to talk about it? Is that what he is saying?,” the former president quizzed.
He added: “No, I won’t let him take that right away from me. If I see something going wrong, I will point it out. It is my duty to do so,” he said.
Mr. Mahama cited the Chief Justice, as having agreed with his views on the perception in a speech read on his behalf by Justice Jones Dotse, a Justice of the Supreme Court at the opening of the 19th Triennial Conference of the Commonwealth Magistrates’ and Judges’ Association (CMJA) in Accra on Monday, September 5, 2022.
“If the scales are weighed in only one direction and if there are people who cannot, for any reason, believe that the justice system works for them as hard as it does for their neighbours [then our job will mean nothing],” the Chief Justice said.
The six-day conference was on the theme: “Access to Justice in a Modern World.” The conference attracted 390 delegates from six regions of the Commonwealth, including Chief Justices, Judges, Magistrates, Lawyers, and judicial officials to exchange ideas and share experiences towards spurring change and innovation in justice administration within the Commonwealth.
The event aimed at promoting better understanding of judicial independence amongst judicial officers of all ranks and from all parts of the Commonwealth. It also sought to promote greater awareness amongst Magistrates and Judges of the Commonwealth of international treaties and laws relating to development and access to justice.
The Chief Justice said the principle of justice for all must energise them daily and become the measure of their approach to the prosecution of their duties, adding in “these tense times, citizens across the Commonwealth and other parts of the world must be assured that there is an avenue for them to have their grievances properly addressed in a way that is fair, equitable and just.”
Chief Justice Anin-Yeboah said, “we cannot be in the frontline of medical and military battles, but the law is what must guide all those who are and so for that reason, we must be actively engaged in these matters and ensure that the weak are protected and rights of all are secured.”
He said a changing world, shifting geo-political sands, economic uncertainty and accelerating climate change were a heady mix that required sure-footed responses.
“To be certain, access to justice will be a key feature in any of the solutions that we will fashion out to respond to any and all of these crises that we face,” he added.
He said he believed that it was extremely important to, as they had chosen to do, explore ways in which they could increase access to justice for all in the modern world, adding the role of justice as a preservative gel in society could not be overemphasized.
Chief Justice Anin-Yeboah said the idea of society, where people with disparate dispositions, with conflicting needs must share space and time, could not be possible if there was not an impartial and predictable system to adjudicate the inevitable tensions that would arise.
“The assurance that we can have justice that we will be protected from harm, and we can go about our lawful business is what keeps all of us together,” he said.