Supreme Court has power to punish for contempt – Justice Atuguba

Justice William Atuguba Nice Justice William Atuguba

Mon, 17 Oct 2016 Source: kasapafmonline.com

The argument that arose during the Montie 3 trial and that of the Election Petition Case as to whether the Supreme Court had the power to punish for contempt or not has been dissected by Justice William Atuguba, with the learned Judge going for the affirmative.

Justice Atuguba delivering the keynote address at the commemoration of the 10th anniversary of the late Justice Daniel Francis Annan in Accra on Friday said much as the 1992 Constitution has vested the power to punish for contempt in the High Court as stated in Article 126(2), so has it also done same in the Supreme Court, quoting Article 129(4) to buttress his claim.

Article 126(2) of the 1992 Constitution states that “The Superior Courts shall be superior courts of record and shall have the power to commit for contempt to themselves and all such powers as were vested in a court of record immediately before the coming into force of this Constitution.”

Article 129(4) of the 1992 Constitution also states that “For the purposes of hearing and determining a matter within its jurisdiction and the amendment, and for the purposes of any other judgment or order made on any matter, and for the purposes of any other authority, expressly or by necessary implication given to the Supreme Court by this Constitution or any other law, the Supreme Court shall have all the powers, authority and jurisdiction vested in any court established by this Constitution or any other law.”

During the Election Petition Case, the Supreme Court came under heavy criticism when it cited some communicators of the governing National Democratic Congress (NDC) and the opposition New Patriotic Party (NPP) for contempt.

Ken Kuranchie from the NPP and Stephen Atubiga from the NDC were imprisoned in the course of the trial.

The issue provoked lots of debate between legal luminaries with some arguing that the Supreme Court had no power to punish for contempt. Others also expressed the opinion that it has since the power to punish or not to punish for contempt rests in the bosom of the court.

Same happened in the case of Abu Ramadan, Evans Nimako vs. Electoral Commission of Ghana where three radio panelists on a Montie FM political show found themselves on the wrong side of the law over comments the Supreme Court deemed contempt.

But Justice Atuguba dissecting the matter told a fully packed symposium that the power of the court to punish for contempt is said to be the power conferred on the court by the people who are the owners of the court for the preservation of law and the enforcement of decisions.

“It is a common law inherent in the course of justice established by the people,” he noted.

According to him, contempt is the most fatal and obstruction of justice and therefore the power of the court to punish for such obstruction of justice was meant to preserve the dignity and authority of the court to ensure a fair trial.

“A man was summoned to serve on a jury. His employers threatened to dismiss him if he obeys the summons. Melfous Stevens felt it was contempt of court which made him liable to immediate imprisonment (See the Rule of Law and Jury Service 1966. 130JP 622).” This power of summarily punishment is a great power. It is given throughout to maintain the dignity and authority of the court and to ensure a fair trial.”

However, he cautioned that such the power to punish for contempt must be exercised by the judge of his own motion only when it is urgent and imperative to act immediately so as to maintain the authority of the court to prevent disorder to enable witnesses to be free from fear and from being improperly influenced and the like.

“It is of course to be exercised with scrupulous care and only where the case is clear and beyond reasonable doubt. A judge should act on his own motion only when it is urgent and imperative to act immediately. In all cases, he should not take it upon himself to move the motion. He should leave it to the Attorney-General or the party aggrieved to move the motion in accordance with the rules in RSC Order 52 so that he should not appear to be both prosecutor and judge ,” he added.

Source: kasapafmonline.com
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