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Are judges in Ghana really corrupt?

Ghana Judges Swear.png Justices of the Supreme Court of Ghana

Fri, 2 Sep 2022 Source:

As part of the three arms of government, the Judiciary has been making news headlines for the past few months for the wrong reasons, with its officials, including judges, being accused of breaking the laws they are supposed to be implementing.

A recent comment by former President John Dramani Mahama on the falling image of the Judiciary and the need to change the current Chief Justice, Kwasi Anin-Yeboah, as a starting point to repairing the image of Ghana's justice system has caused a debate among Ghanaians.

Persons of the same viewpoint as the former president have cited studies by some reputable organisations to back their point that the judges are now corrupt.

But do these reports prove that the country's judges are corrupt? Let us take a look at the major issues these reports raised.

U.S Department of State’s 2021 Annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices

In April 2022, The U.S. Department of State's 2021 Annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices indicated that the Judiciary in Ghana is corrupt, with officials, including judges, taking money to interfere in justice delivery.

"While the constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, the judiciary was subject to unlawful influence and corruption".

"Judicial officials reportedly accepted bribes to expedite or postpone cases, 'lose' records, or issue favourable rulings for the payer of the bribe", the report stated categorically.

Ghana Center for Democratic Development (CDD-Ghana) 2020 Afrobarometer Report

Before the U.S. State Department Report, an Afrobarometer report by the Ghana Centre for Democratic Development (CDD) showed that 85% of Ghanaians perceived judges and magistrates as corrupt.

"More than eight in 10 Ghanaians (85%) say at least 'some' judges and magistrates are corrupt, including 40% who say this about 'most' or 'all' of these court officials", the survey said, while, "fewer than half of respondents say they trust courts 'a lot' (16%) or 'somewhat' (32%)".

"While most Ghanaians endorse the legitimacy of the courts, they also see court officials as corrupt and untrustworthy and believe people are treated unequally under the law. The findings show that among those who had contact with the justice system during the previous year, many rates the system as high on corruption and low on fairness and transparency," the report said.

The survey also said that the courts are biased and tend to favour the rich.

"Ghanaians say high costs, a bias in favour of the rich and powerful, and long delays are the three most important barriers that prevent citizens from using the formal justice system," the survey said.

Auditor-General's Report

Aside from the two reports mentioned above, the Auditor-Generals report prepared by officials of the Government of Ghana has shown that the people who are supposed to implement the country's laws continuously break them by engaging in all forms of corrupt activities.

The recent 2021 Auditor-General report has cited 19 past and current judges of Ghana's superior courts for acquiring state vehicles without the authorisation of the Ministry of Finance – a move that contravenes Regulation 158 of the Public Financial Management Regulations, 2019 (L.I. 2378).

The said law, Regulation 158, provides that the Principal Spending Officer of a covered entity shall obtain the prior written approval of the Minister for the transfer, exchange, sale, donation, contribution-in-kind, trust and any other disposal of any vehicles of the covered entity.

It further indicates that any such disposal, lease and other action referred to in Sub-regulation 1 that is made without the Minister's written approval is void.

However, the 2021 Auditor-General's report states that the vehicles were "auctioned by the Service for GH¢1,023,507.96 without approval from the Minister of Finance."

What these reports point out is that there is definitely a problem in Ghana's justice delivery system, but can it be concluded that judges in Ghana are corrupt?

Ghanaians who hold a contrary view to that of Mahama have argued that judges can't be corrupt because they hardly interact with the public.

Lawyer Maurice Ampaw in an interview on Neat FM, explained that the judges might not be guilty of corrupt activities they have been accused of because they did not engage in administrative work at the Judiciary.

The administrative work at the Judiciary is done by the staff of the Judicial Service, who are the ones who engage with persons seeking justice.

Reacting to the 2021 Auditor General's report, lawyer Ampaw said, "to me, this clearly shows that some staff did not do their job well. At the Judicial Services, the staff members are different from the judges. The judges are limited in enforcing laws or in ensuring that justice is done, and it is possible someone packaged lies for them," he said.

One thing that can be gleaned from both sides of the arguments on the ‘corrupt judges’ debate is that there is a problem in Ghana’s justice delivery system. Whether these problems are from the justices of the courts or not, it is important that they are fixed given the important role the judiciary plays in Ghana’s governance process – interpreting the laws enacted by the Legislative arm of government.

In fact, the importance of the judiciary cannot be over emphasis, given the fact that it was the last resort in determining the outcome of Ghana’s last presidential two elections – the Executive arm of government. A judicial system that is viewed to be corrupt or biased helps no one. Ghana needs all the arms of government – the Executive, Judiciary and Legislature – to function as a proper democracy.

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