Confronting Ghana's Main Problems: The Judiciary Part II

Fri, 7 May 2010 Source: Bokor, Michael J. K.

By Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor

E-mail: mjbokor@yahoo.com

May 4, 2010

The main problems of the Judiciary can be categorized as: the heavy politicization of the Judiciary, the systemic weaknesses of the judiciary itself, and the wider national crisis of endemic bribery and corruption, which is an affront to our democracy. Now, let’s see how these problems pan out.

A. THE POLITICIZATION OF THE JUDICIARY: Of all the weaknesses that detract from our justice delivery system, the politicization of the Judiciary itself is the worst. The Judiciary cannot function effectively because it is heavily politicized. No one is saying that any Judiciary (as a human institution) can ever be devoid of politics. Nowhere in this world can the Judiciary function without political inclinations. However, in our case, the politicization of the Judiciary has taken a turn for the worst.

Partisan political considerations have bedeviled the functions of the Judiciary over the years—whether in the era of the military junta or civilian administrations—and derailed the work of the Judiciary. The Ghana Bar Association’s head-on collision with Acheampong’s administration (especially over the UNIGOV project) and the bad-blood relationship between it and the Rawlings government is not in question.

Invariably, under the Rawlings government, the leadership of the Ghana Bar Association openly presented and represented themselves as NPP functionaries while other members wore their different political persuasions on their sleeves for all to see. They are all over the place today as such. Unfortunately for the Ghana bar Association, however, this recourse to partisan politics has divided its own ranks and created conditions for unhealthy competition for political expediency.

The political neutrality or integrity of the Bench is also questionable. Although it is professionally suicidal for any member of the bench to openly declare his/her political persuasion, it is not difficult for one to see and know where each belongs. The sharp divisions among the members of the Judiciary over political persuasions are a major cause for concern. If these owners of the house themselves are destroying it from within, what can outsiders do to rebuild that house?

Those who are politically connected are often elevated to the position of Chief Justice, bypassing their seniors, even in contravention of laid-down protocols on promotion according to seniority. The resignation of the current Speaker of Parliament (Joyce Bamford-Addo) is a clear example of the negative effect of this flouting of decency by the appointing political authority (the President).

There are too many sinister moves by political forces to destabilize the Judiciary. Much of what has happened over the years to dampen public confidence in the Judiciary has come from entrenched partisan political interests. Any time there is a legal case involving a politician, members of his/her political family rush to his/her defence even before the Judiciary takes firm charge of the matter. It is now trial by political forces, not the Judiciary. How can our legal system function effectively if political forces clip the wings of the Judiciary? Take, for instance, the trial of cases by the Fast Track Courts since Kufuor established them. The NDC functionaries protested against the trial of some of their bigwigs, calling such trials as “politically motivated.” The NPP is doing same today. The trial of Kwadwo Mpiani and Wereko-Brobbey has already become heavily politicized and beginning to lose its legal imperatives. The NPP-USA Branch’s press statement (“The Trial of Mpiani and Wereko-Brobey Is A Travesty Of Justice”) of May 4, 2010, is a classic example of how politicization of legal issues can undermine the administration of justice in the country. By condemning the on-going trial as a “travesty of justice” (whatever they mean by this label), they are doing nothing but casting dangerous doubts over what is purely none of their business. Such an unnecessary interference from political forces and so-called “big men” is a major cause of the rot in our judicial system. Why won’t the courts be allowed to do their job? Who benefits from such an interference, anyway?


The functions of the Judiciary are hampered in other ways too, including the following:

1. Constitutional Impediments Right at the core of the Judiciary’s systemic problems is a fundamental constitutional snag that torpedoes the principle of checks and balances. The Judiciary cannot function independently and effectively because it is not designed to do so. It appears that the position of Chief Justice is constructed to be locked under the armpit of the President. The President appoints the Chief Justice and the Executive determines how much funding the Judiciary deserves. In this sense, which appointee will be unwise to bite the finger that feeds him/her?

Our Presidents have used such unlimited powers to do things anyhow. When Kufuor packed the courts, especially following the disastrous decision of the Supreme Court against the establishment of the “Fast Track Court,” many Ghanaians complained; but because the matter had become politicized instead of being dispassionately tackled, the President’s unlimited powers allowed him to do as he (and his political party in government) chose. This toying with the Judiciary for political expediency must be curbed outright.

2. Undue Delay in the Trial of Cases The Judiciary is choked with human and material problems that promote indecency. One worrisome problem is the long delay of court cases, which promotes vices and erodes public confidence. Such long delays also create room for injustice to be reinforced. Take, for instance, the sad fate of those on remand in the prisons and police cells because the courts cannot dispose of their cases on time. What will such people become to society if they are left to rot away?

If, indeed, our prison system is to be used to reform prisoners (serving purposeful functions as correctional centres to give the inmates some training and employable skills instead of being used as institutions for dehumanizing them), then, this obnoxious failure by the courts to dispose of cases expeditiously should not be countenanced; action should be taken to solve this age-old problem.

Of all the long-drawn-out problems, cases concerning chieftaincy and land disputes pending before courts have dragged on and worsened social relationships. By delaying the trial of such cases, the courts encourage endless litigation and are complicit in the perennial creation of social strife that has endangered lives and property in many parts of the country. One expects action to be taken to rid the courts of problems that hinder their speedy trial of cases.

As cases pile up and the litigants have no opportunity to be served, they open themselves up for exploitation by unscrupulous elements within the Judiciary itself.

When the courts fail to deliver justice within a reasonable trial period, people lose confidence in them and the Judiciary itself loses face. Such an emasculated institution cannot be relied on to support a democracy.

3. Lack of Logistics The Judiciary cannot function effectively because it lacks the resources with which to administer justice expeditiously. Obsolete equipment, insufficient infrastructure, and poor conditions of service are some of the problems that have not been tackled over the years.

The Court Computerization Project on which Victor Selormey and Dan Abodakpi caused millions of Dollars to vanish through their connivance with the faceless Dr. John Boadu is a sad reflection of the sorry state of affairs. Although laudable in principle, this initiative fizzled out because of the greed and mischief of the brains behind it. Today, Dan Abodakpi is an Ambassador!!

(To be continued.)

Columnist: Bokor, Michael J. K.