8
MenuWallOpinions
Articles

Effah-Dartey writes: The Chief Justice?

Justice Kingsley Acquah Justice Kingsley Acquah was a shining Chief Justice

Fri, 23 Jun 2017 Source: Nkrabeah Effah-Dartey

Reader, let me say it bluntly, without mincing words: I have a big problem with the office of the Chief Justice as set out in our Constitution.

Why do I say so?

The most powerful person in Ghana is the President but in actual fact he is not because the Constitution ties his hands in so many ways – Council of State, Cabinet and of course Parliament. If the President jokes, he can be impeached by Parliament.

As for the Vice-President, he only becomes very relevant when something unexpected happens to his boss, while the speaker of Parliament is subject to the wishes of Parliament.

But, the Chief Justice?

Once nominated and approved by Parliament, the Chief Justice becomes almost untouchable. The Chief Justice is the executive and administrative head of the Judiciary, he/she chairs the General Legal Council and the Judicial Service Council, his or her word is virtually law.

The first Chief Justice that I saw in person was Mr Justice Samuel Azu – Crabbe. When I was the secretary general of the West African Law Students Union, we invited him to come and open the first-ever West African Law Students Conference in the University of Ghana, Legon in 1976.

Poor him. He was innocently doing his work when we the students of Ghana held a massive demonstration against the government of the Supreme Military Council and we called on the Head of State General I.K Acheampong to hand over to the Chief Justice. General Acheampong was angry and announced the next day that Samuel

Azu Crabbe had been removed as Chief Justice. His seat was given to the next most senior Justice – FK Apaloo.

Apaloo was Chief Justice until 1985 or thereabout and I was at his farewell ceremony held at the Supreme Court. Justice E. N. P Sowah took over and after him came Justice P. E. N. K. Archer. After Archer came Justice I. K. Abban whose appointment was challenged by the Ghana Bar Association in a lawsuit which was naturally thrown out by the Supreme Court empanelled by the Chief Justice!!

Justice Abban died in office and Wiredu was appointed to succeed him. He also died in office and Justice George Acquah was appointed to succeed him.

G K Acquah was a practising lawyer in Cape Coast and the Ghana Bar Association recommended him for appointment to the bench as a High Court Judge. I appeared before him at the Ho and Hohoe High Courts and two years later, he was elevated to the Court of Appeal. The guy was correct. After only a year at the Appellate bench, he was elevated to the Supreme Court and I argued the Kwame Pianim case before a panel that included him, Wiredu JSC presiding.

Most regrettably, this shining Chief Justice died in office, and President J A Kufuor nominated the first woman ever for a long time known as Ms Justice Georgina Lutterodt, Justice of the Supreme Court, lately became Mrs Justice Georgina Wood, wife of a bank executive, as the Chief Justice.

Infrastructure

Going through the courts, practising, what I noticed was that whenever there was a change of baton in Chief Justice, you would see some physical infrastructural changes in the courts.

The most remarkable change was in the era of Wiredu C J when he fenced the entire perimeter of the Supreme Court area with see through iron railings.

However, by far, the most significant changes in the infrastructure of the Judiciary took place under the latest outgone Chief Justice, Georgina Theodora Wood.

In her time, we had the Commercial Court complex, the Judicial Service Administrative Block, the modern High Court Complex and for me the most significant of all, the Supreme Court car park.

Justice Georgina Wood tops the list largely because in my view, she is the longest serving – 10 years – Chief Justice, and she was fortunate to have Presidents Kufuor and Evans Atta Mills – both lawyers – so they could appreciate her problems.

But it was not all rosy for Georgina Wood. During her time, the Judicial Service Staff Association (JUSSAG) went on strike twice, paralysing the Judiciary and the Attorney-General’s (AG’s) Department. State Attorneys also went on strike for the first time ever in the history of Ghana.

And the worst nightmare of her era was the Anas bribery scandal that shook the Judiciary to its foundation, resulting in over 30 judges of the High Court and Circuit Courts losing their jobs and the service being embroiled in several lawsuits.

I first saw her at the Accra Ridge Church as a chorister and I appeared before her several times in several High Court cases. I was in her court one day when lawyers E D Kom and Joe Reindoff, living legends in the legal practice, clashed. I was enjoying the epic legal battle when a client came to pull me out, so I don’t know how she resolved that battle.

However, one very interesting experience I will never forget till death was when one day I had to respond to a motion at the High Court before then Georgina Lutterodt, sitting at where today the Criminal Court of Appeal sits.

My lord said she could not hear me that day so I should come the next day. I protested that I was seriously engaged the next day and it was most inconvenient for me. My lord did not budge and when I persisted, she lost her cool and said openly, “Captain Effah Dartey, I will hear your case tomorrow morning at 9 O’clock. If you like, don’t come”.

Reader, I was desperate. A new client had given me very big money to appear at the Akropong Circuit Court the next day, and honestly I could not sacrifice that case. Unfortunately for me, those days I was alone in my chambers with no junior to help me. What do I do?

I called the court clerk and almost wept before him that I must go to Akropong tomorrow. What can he do for me? The court clerk kept quiet for a long time, then asked: if you go to Akropong, when will you return?

Oh, I am sure definitely by 11 O’clock I will be back.

Okay. Captain. Go and come at 11.

Next morning by 9 o’clock I was at the Akropong Akwuapim Circuit Court. The judge delayed a little but by 9:45 a.m., I had finished my case at Akropong. I sat in my BMW, said a prayer and then ignited the car, reader, the way I drove that morning, if any police officer had seen me, I am sure he would have arrested me. With all the Madina Traffic and so on, by exactly 10:45a.m., I entered Justice Georgina Lutterodt’s court. Thanks to God, so many senior lawyers had engaged the attention of the judge that it was only when she saw me entering her court that she said to the court clerk: where is Effah-Dartey’s docket – call that case!!!”.

Later the court clerk, who from that day till date became a bosom friend, told me how he saved my day.

The Attorney-General doubles as Minister of Justice so theoretically the Attorney-General exercises ministerial responsibility over the Chief Justice but in practice, who is the Attorney-General to question the authority of the Chief Justice? At any rate, is the Chief Justice not the A-G who is chairman of the Judicial Service Council?

I strongly recommend that we should amend the Constitution so that whoever is the Chairman of the Council of State or President of the National House of Chiefs becomes Chairman of the Judicial Service so that at least somebody can look over the shoulders of the Chief Justice because as it is now, the Chief Justice is in practice the truly most powerful person in Ghana.

A certain Chief Justice awarded a very questionable contract and the matter came up in Parliament. I was then MP for Berekum. The contract cost in billions to a company which received full payment, upfront, but the documents of registration of the company could not be traced at the Registrar General’s Department!!!

The Chief Justice?

Columnist: Nkrabeah Effah-Dartey