Judges Corruption Scandal: Is it time to clean the Judiciary?

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Mon, 14 Sep 2015 Source: Ata, Kofi

Following the revelation on the extent of the canker of corruption within the judiciary (twelve High Court and twenty-two Circuit Court Judges caught on camera taking bribes to throw away cases and free criminals including armed robbers) by Anas, Dr Anning of the Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Centre has suggested a review of all cases by the judges involved over a ten year period. This is a contribution to the way forward.

In fact, I am not sure if Ghanaians were surprised by the revelations that judges take bribes to fudge judgements because this has been rumoured for decades. What was perhaps, shocking was the level of simplicity or sophistication, the intermediaries involved and how well organised or disorganised it is.

How low the judges were prepared to put their reputation was also surprising but apart from these, I do not find anything strange or new because when I read some court decisions reported by the Ghanaian media, I am at a loss as to how the judges came to those decisions. Examples include the Ya-Naa, Woymegate and other judgement debt trials.

In March 2015, a claim by a private company against the State Insurance Company (SIC) for Ghc 14 million loan guaranteed by SIC in 2013 ballooned into Ghc 160,834,493 in 2015. The judge did not question the basis of the total amount being claimed and granted it, ordered SIC to pay within 21 days or seizure of its assets by the private company.

Kwesi Pratt also disclosed on Kokrokoo that in a dispute over the ownership of a property purchased by Ghanaian returnee from the Diaspora, despite documentary evidence on the legal sale and purchase of the property, the judge ruled that the transaction was illegal because it was paid in dollars which is not legal tender in Ghana. As a result the returnee who toiled abroad to invest in a property at home has not only lost his money but also become homeless in his own country. The former owner has spent the money from the sale and regained his property. Where on earth would this happen unless the judge was bribed by the former owner?

Corruption is innate in Ghana. It is the most common, expensive as well as cheapest commodity and every fabric of the Ghanaian society has its share. It’s the biggest industry worth billions of dollars and probably total annual value bigger than Ghana’s GDP. If there is one Ghanaian alive who can mention just one institution or organisation in Ghana that is not corrupt or has no association with corruption, let him/her challenge me. Politicians, religious leaders, police officers, civil/public servants, journalists, teachers/lecturers, etc are all active participants and not only judges.

Ghana’s judiciary has suffered irreparable damage by this scandal and it would take a lot of bold and hard decisions by the Judiciary to restore confidence in the system. It will take more than just sacking, prosecuting and jailing 34 judges. What is required is a paradigm shift not only in the Judiciary but across criminal justice institutions as well as a cultural change by Ghanaians. After all, this malignant disease is a societal one because it’s Ghanaians who give or receive the bribes. Cleaning the judiciary will not end corruption in Ghana but that would be the beginning. The judiciary is the strongest link in the chain of the fight against corruption.

Ghana’s judiciary is now nothing to write home about. Its shattered image is also now global. In fact, I was shocked by Egbert Faibille saying on Kokrokoo programme that Ghana’s judiciary is the best in the Commonwealth. I am not sure if he knows all the fifty-five member countries of the Commonwealth because such a claim is either delusional or he is simply being over patriotic or over defensive. Even among the nineteen African countries in the Commonwealth, is Ghana’s judiciary better than Botswana, one of the least corrupt countries in Africa or that of South Africa?

Ghana may have well qualified judges and Attroneys but if they take bribes to turn the law upside down, what good are they to the administration of justice? What about the judiciary in the more developed Commonwealth countries such as Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the UK? Is Egbert Faibille aware that in the UK judges were sacked for accessing pornographic materials on work IT system? There is no perfect judiciary anywhere in the world but to suggest that Ghana’s is the best in the Commonwealth is madness.

There is the urgent and immediate need for a full scale or root and branch review of all judgements given by the 34 judges who have been exposed collecting bribes.

A special Judicial Committee or Commission should be established to undertake the review. This should be followed by appeals and retrials of cases that the evidence and the law on one side do not tally with the judgement on the other. In all cases involving the said judges, the losing parties should also launch appeals at the expense of the state. The statue of limitation should be suspended or waived to enable victims of injustice appeal against unreasonable rulings.

In addition to the above, Ghana should set up a permanent Judicial Review Commission to review unreliable court decisions since the Fourth Republic. This is because thousands of citizens and non citizens have suffered miscarriages of justice at the hands of bribe taking corrupt judges and court officials. The corrupt judicial system (including the police, Attorney General’s Department and private Attorneys) has administered injustices to the poor, the weak and the less connected members of society, whilst the rich, the powerful and the well connected in high places have bought justice on a silver platter.

This is a life time opportunity for the Judiciary to reduce corruption in Ghana to the barest minimum. Though corruption is pervasive in all institutions and places, it’s only the judiciary that can break the cycle of corruption in Ghana. In my view, corruption thrives in Ghana because of the indiscipline and lawlessness in the country. That is, if the laws, rules and regulations are enforced by the authorities and complied with by the citizenry corruption will reduce substantially.

If judges stop taking bribes, decide cases on merit and in accordance with the law, without fear or favour and irrespective of one’s wealth, power or position in society, citizens will also comply with the laws, rules and regulations.

Individuals will be cautious in giving bribes and public officials will also be cautions in taking bribes because when caught, they will know that they cannot bribe judges but most likely for both the giver and taker to end up in jail. Such an environment of respect for the rule of law will result in corruption being reduced drastically.

Indiscipline and lawless in Ghana have led to foreigners disrespecting Ghanaians in their own country because foreigners know that they can bribe judges and public officials when they breach the law and violate the rights of Ghanaians.

I recently read about how an Indian grocery shop owner in Accra humiliated a Ghanaian returnee who went into the shop. He was accused of shop lifting and subjected to a search in front of the public just because he was black. This is because the shop is patronised mostly by foreigners, the rich and powerful in Ghana, some kind of apartheid in Ghana. The police would have done nothing had the Ghanaian reported the Indian shop owner. In fact, the shop owner would have bribed the police with some few items from the shop and not money. That is how cheap Ghanaians are.

Sadly, I am tempted to believe that this scandal will be a nine day wonder and that the Judiciary will not take this golden opportunity to fight corruption in Ghana. Within a month, Ghanaians will move onto another case and this will die a natural death with a few judges resigning and the rest being transferred until the next scandal. At best, the Judicial Council will spend over a year on this and in the end many of the corrupt judges will be cleared as innocent victims. What has happened to Ms Lauretta Lamptey the suspended CHRAJ boss? She is still on suspension receiving her full salary and all benefits at the expense of the state. Welcome to real Ghana.

Kofi Ata, Cambridge, UK

Columnist: Ata, Kofi