Business in Ghana

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Abuse of Judicial Power Through Contempt of Court

Posted by Business in Ghana on July 7, 2013

by Dr. Agyenim Boateng, July 7th, 2013

In my opinion, the fundamental issues or principles involved in the so-called recent contempt of court trial were sidestepped or ignored by some of the so called legal and political pundits. The  issue of freedom of the press and freedom  of speech, though stuck out like a sore thumb, yet  some of the   much tooted “ legal gurus”  including law lecturers and political  commentators  described  the  “Kangaroo trial” as fair.  They embraced the capricious and arbitrary sentencing as appropriate, as even some felt the unjust verdict as teaching lessons for the culprits, in this case, the victims. Albeit other potential citizens who may challenge the Justices on the abuse of their power to silence the fundamental rights of citizens   on their free speech under the constitution. What a misuse of judicial powers!

To my chagrin, even the National Media Commission(NMC) and the Ghana Bar Association(GBA) joined the chorus of approval of the misconduct of the Supreme Court Judges in silencing free speech contrary to the statutory laws that repealed  criminal libel under Kufuor administration.  To me, the summary trial and sentencing of the journalist, Ken Kuranchie and other citizens were just a back door effort to resuscitate the moribund criminal libel laws. Sad to say the NMC and GBA found the sentence as fair!

None of the political pundits even the legal elites have come out with any solution on how to prevent such arbitrary misuse of power by the courts in the future. Everyone knows Parliament has its own laws and guidelines on sanctions under the contempt of Parliament. However our courts do not have any except, operate under common law concept of contempt   that gives the Judge free reign to intimidate, harass and humiliate the contemnor as evidenced in Awuku-Atugiba and Kuranchie trial. What is needed urgently is Parliament to pass legislation reforming this common law use of contempt by the Judges which has no place in our democratic governance. Let me emphasize at the expense of begging the questions that none of the institutions of government or state has absolute power. All powers are circumscribed by the constitution   and the statutory laws and they all have to operate within such limitations.

I suggested elsewhere recently about the judiciary or legal elites still being mired under the common theory of jurisprudence instead of accepting and operating under constitutionalism as the bedrock of our democracy. Their reluctant to accept change and even adopt modern technology (I.T.) as part of the court room accessory is symptomatic of what ails the judiciary thereby   prolonging and delaying the administration of justice. Why did the Supreme Court Justices reject the use of DVD and software to facilitate the tendering of evidence in the Petition trial?

Old habits are hard to change that’s why I call on revamping the law school’s curriculum to  accommodate modern trends in constitutional jurisprudence and the utility of IT as integral part of the court systems. This will be a way forward for JUSTICE in Ghana

Dr. Agyenim Boateng is a former Deputy Attorney-General, Kentucky, USA

Email: agyeboateng@gmail.com

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