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A group calling itself United for National Interest has criticised Chief Justice nominee 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 to their services on social media.
According to her, touting is frowned upon in the practice and considered an unethical conduct.
Her comments come on the back of the three-year ban slapped on human rights lawyer Francis-Xavier Sosu by the General Legal Council (GLC) for what it described as violation of advertisement rules and for charging excessive legal fees.
Mr Sosu was accused of advertising on Facebook.
Sharing her opinion on the matter when she appeared before the vetting committee on Friday, 16 June, 2017, Justice Akuffo said: “If you want my view on advertising on social media, personally, I’m a 67-year-old woman, I’ve been at the bar since 1973/74 and I believe that dignity of the bar is important as dignity of the judiciary. And the idea of lawyers touting themselves on social media is personally distasteful to me, but that aside, the law is clearly against touting because it is considered an improper conduct on the part of the lawyer. Every profession has its rules.”
Instead of advertising on social media, Justice Akuffo suggested “you can have a website and put yourself on your website”.
Meanwhile, Mr Sosu has appealed his ban. He is also seeking a declaration that the charge of touting and personal advertisement levelled against him by the General Legal Council is discriminatory and contrary to Article 17 of the 1992 Constitution and praying the court to quash his three-year ban.
However the group has condemned Justice Akuffo over her comments.
The convener of the group, Senyo Korsi, indicated in the release that “the justifications given by the CJ nominee when the matter is sub judice by way of lawyer Sosu's appeal and yet to be heard have the potential to prejudice lawyer Sosu's appeal and are highly unacceptable”.
For them, Justice Akuffo knew very well that “the discriminatory decision they took against lawyer Sosu was on appeal” hence “the least she could have said was that the matter was on appeal and she could not share her opinion on it particularly when she presided over that decision”.
Furthermore, the group said it was demanding “fairness and accountability” and “would like to call on the CJ nominee to revise her notes on Information Communications Technology (ICT)” because “social media are websites with applications that enable users to create and share content or to participate in social networking”.
For them, they believe “there may be other considerations other than legal that was the reason for this ban”.
Below is the full press statement:
CJ NOMINEE OUT OF TIME ON ISSUES OF SOCIAL MEDIA & LEGAL PRACTICE IN GHANA.
It has come to our Notice that the Chief Justice Nominee, who presided over the ban of renowned Human Rights Lawyer for three years for among other things alleged to have advertised himself on face book justified same during her public vetting in parliament on 16th June, 2017.
She is reported saying among others:
"Personally, I believe that dignity of the bar is as important as the dignity of the judiciary, and the idea of lawyers touting themselves on social media is personally distasteful to me."
She also added: "But that aside, the law is there clearly against touting because touting is an improper conduct on the part of the lawyer,”
Again she said: "Self-advertisement is one of those frowned on in many jurisdictions, there are some that permit it, but I have not studied the scope of those permissions. But Facebook, Twitter… at the moment will not fall in the permissible areas. You can have a website and put yourself on it..."
We note with concern the following:
1. the justifications given by the CJ nominee when the matter is sub judice by way of Lawyer Sosu's appeal and yet to be heard has the potential to prejudice Lawyer Sosu's appeal and highly unacceptable.
She knew very well that the discriminatory decision they took against Lawyer Sosu was on appeal. The least she could have said was that the matter was on appeal and she could not share her opinion on it particularly when she presided over that decision. She should have also told the world which kind of "quality justice" was dispensed to Lawyer Sosu.
2. In a democracy like ours, rule of law and due process must be the preferred options. Article 23 of the 1992 Constitution guarantees the right to administrative justice of all persons including Lawyers. The Nominee and the General Legal Council are not above the laws of Ghana. Quality Justice requires adherence to all the tenets of Rule of Law.
The Personal views of the CJ Nominee is not what governs the professional conduct of lawyers. By the Legal Professions Act out of which professional regulations were derived, even when a person is alleged to have misconducted themselves, the professional body would have to be the first adherents of the rules of Natural Justice.
In the case of Lawyer Sosu, led by the CJ Nominee all those rules were breached. They were complainant, prosecutors and judges in their own court. How can justice and fairness be done in these circumstances.
3. There is no doubt that the rules on Touting and Advertisement are all outmoded and needs review. When those rules were enacted, information technology had not reached this height. Websites with social networking applications had not developed and besides those rules are clearly inconsistent with Article 19(11) of the 1992 Constitution because they are not specific and no specific sanctions provided. It's application against Human Rights Lawyer, Francis-Xavier Sosu is very selective and discriminatory contrary to Article 17 of the Constitution. If the rules will not be amended then all Lawyers must be banned. We have already Complained to the General Legal Council against some senior members like Sam Okudjato and several other lawyers and hope same rules will be invoked.
4. It is very clear that from the responses of the CJ Nominee she is outmoded on issues of social media and it's influence on legal practice in Ghana. She is not in tune with the modern trend and that can be problematic to the legal fraternity. All standards of definitions of social media includes website. It cannot be said that websites are allowed when the existing laws do not allow it. Guidelines for websites cannot amend a legislative instrument. The General Legal Council must do the right thing.
5. Social media are websites with applications that enable users to create and share content or to participate in social networking.
6. Most lawyers in Ghana have websites which are interactive and allows for social networking. Websites are linked with Facebook, twitter, LinkedIn, and other internet applications depending on choice. We as a group would advice the nominee CJ to google law firms or lawyers in Ghana and she will be amazed the amount of information available contrary to her view. The Office of the General Legal Council owns a website, but when it's Notice of Ban of Lawyer Sosu was ready, it was sent through whatsapp, a social media facility. Today, lawyers share laws, cases, and vital information through whatsapp and even some courts have ordered service of writs by substation through whatsapp and Facebook in Ghana and other jurisdiction
From the foregoing we as a civil society group that demands fairness and accountability would like to call on the CJ Nominee to revise her notes on Information Communications Technology.
We believe there may be other considerations other than Legal that was the reason for this ban.
It is in this light that we call on the General Legal Council, the Ghana Bar Association, the International Bar Association, and all other lovers of freedom and justice to join in the fight against selective justice and systemic injustice.
In the service of Ghana and humanity
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