Opinions Sun, 18 Jun 2017

Chief Justice nominee and Parliamentary Vetting

One key bedrock of rule of law is judicial independence. Independence of the judiciary is essential because it assures citizens of neutrality of judges when dispensing justice. It is equally important for a reason that judges become bold to discharge their duties without assenting to the blowing political wind. This means that nations without proper judicial independence do not only risk setting examples for dystopian societies but poignantly imperil condemning rule of law into a canyon of ethical debauchery or anarchy.

My simple question is, if the speaker of parliament does not appear before parliamentary appointment committee why must the chief justice (CJ) appear before the legislative vetting committee? Considering the status and experience of CJ nominee like Justice Sophia Akuffo, is the vetting necessary at all? I think we are treading on a dangerous path by subjecting the CJ nominee to irrelevant vetting and ridicule.

Let me begin with a self-disclosure that I am neither an attorney nor having unbridled intentions to construct the niches of Ghana’s constitution. Even so, I concede Ghana needs a serious constitutional amendment. I am just trying to think about the correlation between CJ’s job performance and parliamentary vetting.

Are we trying to offer the three arms of government a semblance of checks and balances without recourse to the independence of the judiciary and sacrosanctity of the Supreme Court as an arbiter of last resort?

Subjecting the CJ nominee to parliamentary vetting is inimical to judicial independence. How can the same parliamentarians be given powers to set up their own committee to deal with matters affecting them and then be empowered to subject CJ nominee to public vetting? Is one arm of government bigger than the other? What is the purpose of vetting the CJ nominee?

Parliamentary vetting is a form of employment interview. In their research work entitled “Structured employment interview: Narrative and quantitative review of research” published in the journal of personnel psychology in 2014, Levashina, J, Hartwell, C., Morgeson, C., and Campion, M., defined employment interview as “a face-to-face interaction, media interaction such as telephone calls and computer-mediated video chats conducted to determine the qualifications of a given individual for a particular open position.

The interview structure must comprise the content and evaluation dimensions. The foregoing scholars asserted that the content dimension includes:

• Basing questions on job analysis

• Asking the same question of each applicant

• Restricting prompting, follow up and elucidation on questions

• Controlling ancillary questions

• Adopting better types of questions

• Adopting longer interview questions

• Not allowing a question from the job candidate until after the interview.

The evaluation aspect includes:

• Rating each answer by multiple scales.

• Using anchored rating scales.

• Taking notes.

• Not discussing applicants’ answers between interviews.

• Adopting statistical rather than clinical predictions among other things.

Any form of scientific vetting must comprise content and evaluation. Over the years parliamentary vetting frowned upon these standards.

How scientific are the results of legislative vetting? Perhaps the lawmaker from Bawku Central, Honorable Mahama Ayariga’s bribery allegation against the current energy minister, Mr. Boakye Agyarko justifies my mental anxiety relative to parliamentary vetting.

What do the members of appointment committee know about judicial service? If we want an appropriate interview, then the right people from the content area must be empaneled to evaluate the would-be CJ.

Far from disrespecting our noble legislators, even the experiences of the legal practitioners on the committee are far below that of the CJ nominee, let alone talking about those without legal training. The vetting committee and the CJ nominee relationship is like a police lance corporal Serekye at Kete krachi station trying to assess COP Nathan Kofi Boakyi on the latter’s job.

I am not insinuating that a junior rank cannot evaluate a senior officer in any way. Such claims will be an affront to a servant leadership style. All I am saying is that CJ nominees vetting is needless and a waste of time.

The attorney-general and the Minister of Justice is the head of the judiciary and she went through a parliamentary vetting already. Just as the Inspector General of Police (IGP) does not need parliamentary vetting because his head; minister of interior is already vetted by parliament CJ nominees must equally be spared of vetting. The position of CJ must be based on merits, seniority and competence devoid of presidential and legislative control.

The CJ must be free from needless vetting that could impugn his/ her integrity. As I was thinking about this write-up news broke out that the CJ nominee has made a prejudicial comment.

“A group calling itself United for National Interest has criticised Justice Sophia Akuffo over what it says are prejudicial comments made by her during her vetting. Justice Akuffo told parliament on Friday, June 16 that it was “distasteful” for lawyers advertise their services on social media. According to her, touting is frowned upon in the practice and considered an unethical conduct” (Source: ghanaweb.com, Saturday, June 17, 2017).

My point is if parliament is vetting the CJ to be sure of her integrity then this is unfortunate. Being a Supreme Court judge must be a benchmark for her integrity. If she has no integrity to be CJ, it follows ipso facto that she is equally devoid of trustworthiness to be in the Supreme Court. I am travelling on the wheel of judicial independence to conclude that CJ nominees vetting is needless.

God Bless Our Homeland Ghana.

Columnist: Nana Yaw Osei