Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The un-tenability of Justice Georgina Wood’s Position

“No punishment has ever possessed enough power of deterrence to prevent the commission of crimes. On the contrary, whatever the punishment, once a specific crime has appeared for the first time, its reappearance is more likely than its initial emergence could ever have been. “- Hannah Arendt

In many other societies the Chief Justice (CJ) of the Republic of Ghana, Madam Georgina Wood, would have resign her position.

To maintain her personal integrity and safeguard the integrity of the institution of the judiciary, Madam CJ should have thrown in the towel.

The CJ occupies such an exalted position that any whiff of impropriety will easily bring it to dis-repute. But we live in a society where people cling tenaciously to office when their position has become simply untenable.

No less an institution that the ruling party, the National Democratic Congress, NDC has, through its regional chairmen seriously indicted the CJ and passed what goes for a vote of no confidence in the CJ, yet she made no reply and she clings to office. This is not good enough.
That she was made CJ in very murky circumstances should be bad enough, but that she should be perceived to be politically biased should be totally unacceptable. What about the allegation that she has taken over the task of allotting cases?

The judiciary is the third arm of government and a very important one for that matter. Perhaps unknown to most people, the judiciary is actually the most powerful of the arm of government.

Civics books teach that the legislature makes laws, the executive executes it and the judiciary interprets the law. This means that the law is what the judiciary says it is. No mortal can challenge the order of the CJ because there is simply no higher authority in matters judicial. Those familiar with the role of interpreters in colonial Africa will know that they are often the most powerful people in the system.

The judiciary is the only arm of government that can actually punish someone. The President, however powerful, cannot order the arrest and detention of any citizen. A mere circuit court magistrate can incarcerate the most powerful citizen by judicial fiat. And whereas the legislature can, sitting collective, condemn someone for contempt, a lone magistrate sitting in a dilapidated room in some obscure place can so do in a jiffy.

But with these awesome powers come some profound responsibilities. Invested with such grand powers, the judiciary is expected to place itself beyond the ordinary plane. It is expected that our Judges operate in a rarefied space that will continue to awe ordinary folks with its majesty.

What also should not be lost on us is the simple fact that the judiciary derives its authority solely by being the only arm of government that required rigorous learning. That might explain why Judges are called LEARNED.

Whilst the executive and the legislative arms of the triad are peopled by every manner of ragamuffin, Judges are expected to be people who have gone through first a university training and then attend the Law School.

Whilst a minister of state might brandish nothing more serious than a bulging bank account and a member of parliament might be a confirmed buffoon, a Judge must be literate and well educated. His\Her comportment must also be above reproach.

Maybe because they hold such awesome powers over us, Judges have always been judged by different standards than accrue to the rest of the hoi polio.

Recent events in our dear land have dented this hallowed image that a judiciary must carry that yours truly will join those that call on the Chief Justice to tender her resignation with immediate effect.

In justice, as in politics, perception is everything. But whereas the executive and the legislature can afford to have their images drag though the mud, it is a price the judiciary cannot afford to pay. The authority and legitimacy of the judiciary is based on the perception that is in an impartial arbiter of the law. Remove that and the judiciary has lost it all.

Whereas a Minister or a MP can survive a scandal, a Judge must always be above reproof. He must always appear sober and with an air of piety. And no Judge can survive been tainted with political biasness. And for a judge to be accused of trading judicial gossip at a drinking bar is totally moxious.

And the situation where we have a sitting judge openly trading political mudslinging with an official of the Attorney General’s office is unwholesome. It shows that Madam CJ is not in control of her turf. There should be no need for a senior judge to come out publicly and open his mouth ‘anyhow.’ Verbal pugilism is not among the credentials we expect from our Judges.

Sans the perception that our judges will deliver impartial justice, there is little sense in appealing to the law to settle disputes. Comprehending this simple logic is what is appearing to me missing in the many jejune arguments being postulated by political jobbers.

Our system of justice is in a very fine mess. What need to be done is recognition of the sad fact and look for ways to rectify the rottenness in the system. Pretending that things will correct themselves is sheer illusion we will do well to avoid.

We need not read unnecessary politics into the issue. The big question here in whose interests are laws made, administer and adjudicate?

If as we all agree it is in the interest of the common man, another important question arises: what is the perception of the masses about our system of justice.

Less us leave hypocritical vituperations aside; unless someone just arrived from Mars, almost everyone knows that our judicial system is corrupt beyond measure. A cursory reading of letters to the editors or the opinion pages on the webspace will show the depth of our people’s disgust with the judicial system currently operating in the country. And the angst of the people is for good reasons.

Wittingly or not the judicial is creating in the minds of the people that contrary to what we are being told, the law is a respecter of well-heeled persons.

“How can law contradict the lives of millions of people and hope to be administered successfully?” Richard Wright

We cannot but fail to notice how poor people are being punished very severely for the least infractions, whilst rich and powerful people are made to go scot free on what the legal people called ‘technicalities.’

“A man's respect for law and order exists in precise relationship to the size of his paycheck.” Adam Clayton Powell, Jr.

Rightly or wrongly we are being told that the dispensation of justice depends on one’s pocket. I have argued severally in this column that it is illogical for us to continue to operate a system of justice that makes little or no sense to the vast majority of our people. How on earth can we claim to be interested in justice when very few of us understand the mechanics of the legal system? And people in the legal profession will tell us that ignoratia legis haud excuse. To wit: Ignorance of the law is no excuse. In the opinion of our learned judges, we should be punished for our ignorance!

We did ourselves great dis-service when after regaining control of our national affairs from the colonizers, we elected to keep in place the very system they imposed to oppress us.

Why did the simple logic that we cannot use the same instruments\institutions that our colonial masters used to oppress us to build our modern societies evade us?

Our police continue to oppress us like agents of colonial officers rather than friends, with whom the people could feel free and secure. Even a child born yesterday knows that our police officers are uniformed bribe-takers. Many will even tell you that from the lowest to the highest echelon, the whole gamut is riddled with corruption. And yet, it is the same police we expect to be at the frontline of our justice system. And it is the same people we expect to lead the fight against corruption!

How many of us have not encountered police officers shamelessly begging for ‘something small,’ on our roads? How many of us who have had occasions to seek assistance at police stations have not been embarrassed by the open corruption there? And it is the same police we are told will impartially execute the law?

I have had few occasions to visit some of our law courts. If we are truly serious as a people, we will admit that what we call justice system is one huge joke where every manner of charade is played out by those we charge to administer our justice system. Our courts make Arab bazaars look sanctified. Any honest person will tell you that justice is for sale, and openly so. Everything in our law courts has its price and the haggling is done almost openly.

We operate a very rotten political and judicial system and we pretend not to know why there is so much chaos in our society.

Below are some recent headlines (and stories) about how justice is administered in our dear land:

Plantain thief jailed 12 months

Noble Plantain-Thief Jailed 18 Months! Elitist Thieves are Free!

Cable thief jailed six years

A circuit court at Goaso has sentenced Kwame Frafra, a 32 year old unemployed to six years imprisonment in hard labour for stealing a quantity of electric cables

Two brothers pay heavily for stolen booze
Two brothers, Kobina Daffour, 22 and Kofi Sasu, 24, both unemployed and resident at Jukwa near Cape Coast, were on Friday fined GH¢500.00 each by the circuit court in Cape Coast for stealing a bottle of ‘Kasapreko Alomo bitters,’ an alcoholic beverage valued at GH¢1.50 from a drinking spot.

Two remanded for stealing goat
The Akim Swedru Circuit Court has remanded Kwadwo Akpakah and John Kwadwo, both farmers, in prison custody for stealing a goat valued at GH¢100.00, a property of Nana Kwasi Nkrumah who is a fetish priest.

We have the situation whereby our learned Judges find it expedient to jail petty thieves, many of them unemployed, to stiff jail terms. The same Judges will find ‘technical’ excuses to set free those who looted millions and billions from their employers.

Some judgments from our law courts are truly bizarre. Recently nursing mother was sentenced to six month jail term by a learned judge who made no provision for the care of her baby. The poor woman was unable to pay a fine of 400 cedis and for that she has to spend six (6) months in jail. It took the intervention of a kind-hearted Regional Minister to pay help pay the fine and rescue the poor woman!

It is difficult to keep pace with the spate of corrupt cases in our society today, but the most obvious ones are the Ghana@50 secretariat where billions of (old) cedis were allegedly mis-appropriated.

Look at that word (mis-appropriation), again. When educated, well-connected folks steal money from their employers (private or public), they are said to have mis-appropriated it. Whereas a poor Kwame who steal 10 cedi in order to buy for his family their only meal of the day is, in view of our laws, a plain thief or robber as the case might be. But the big man, who sit in a big office and use his pen to illegally divert billions of cedis to his private accounts is said to be guilty of mis-appropriation!

The truth is that it is far easier for the proverbial Camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to see the inside of a jail.

We are all witness to the daylight robbery former Speaker of parliament, Mr Ebenezer Begyina Sekyi-Hughes, perpetrated in broad daylight. The departing speaker looted his official residence and to date no charge has been proffer against him. He is walking free and is probably considered a man of god and a pillar of his society.

“Good order is the foundation of all good things.” - Edmund Burke

“Where laws end, tyranny begins.” - William Pitt the Elder

And consider these headlines:
STATEMENT: Dep A-G Must Apologise By Justice Anthony Oppong
NDC Chairman: We'll Clean Judiciary Of Rot If Chief Justice Fails To Act
A-G replies Judge: Your comments are reprehensible, unprofessional
Chief Justice Georgina Wood is politically tainted – NDC
Feature: Tainted professional conduct and the Ghanaian judiciary
Dep A-G: Go To Hell, I Won’t Apologise Today Or Tomorrow To Judge Oppong

How on earth do we expect untainted, unbiased justice in these poisoned atmospheres?
To call the law an ass is an egregious insult to all asses!

“As President, I have no eyes but constitutional eyes, I cannot see you.” - Abraham Lincoln

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