Hon. Samuel Okudzeto Ablakwa, Member of Parliament for North Tongu and Member of the Appointment Committee of Parliament, has expressed dissatisfaction to answers on contempt of court given by Justice Sophia Abena Boafoa Akuffo, when she appeared before the committee for vetting last Friday.
According to him, it was expected that, the incoming Chief Justice could have used the opportunity availed before her to explain and expatiate on the law on contempt of court for the benefit of the ordinary Ghana, but she failed to do so.
Mr. Ablakwa made the observation in an interview with The Republic shortly after the vetting of the Chief Justice nominee by the Appointment Committee in Parliament last Friday.
When asked by Mahama Ayariga, MP for Bawku Central, to explain why the Supreme Court severely punished Network Broadcasting Limited, in addition to the Montie Three – Salifu Maase (Mugabe), Godwin Ako Gunn, and Alistair Nelson – who were found guilty of contempt of the Supreme Court in August, 2016, Justice Akuffo stated: “To start off with, I am not comfortable about being called upon to justify a judgment that we have delivered, but in general terms concerning the scope of exercising the contempt power or labelling something to be contemptuous, I believe that each case will dictate the outcome.”
In her explanation, she said the law on contempt of court is meant to protect the sanctity and integrity of the judiciary but not meant to prevent anybody from talking.
According to her, there was the need to safeguard the sanctity of the judiciary because it is the backbone of every stable democracy, as any attempt to undermine the integrity of the judiciary will not bode well for the country.
“Contempt of court is not intended to gag anybody. Contempt of court, its focus is on the protection of the sanctity and integrity of the judicial process. It is intended to protect the process itself, not even the individuals who were offended.
“It is to protect the institution because, excuse me, Honourable Legislators, at the end of the day it is when the justice system breaks down that is when a nation breaks down.
“There are countries without a legislature [but] they manage; there are countries with dubious executive structures [but] they manage so long as there is something they can call the judiciary. If there is no judiciary then we are back in the jungle,” Justice Akuffo explained.
Justice Akuffo also rejected claims that the Montie 3 were treated unfairly by the panel of judges which sentenced them to four months in prison, stating, “Normally, when natural justice has been denied, then there is denial of justice, but there was no denial of natural justice.”
Alistair Nelson, Godwin Ako Gunn and Salifu Maase aka Mugabe were jailed by the Supreme Court panel chaired by Justice Sophia Akuffo at that time for threatening to kill judges, as well as scandalising and bringing the name of the Bench into disrepute.
They had made the threatening comments against the Chief Justice and some members of the Bench in connection with a ruling by the same court ordering the Electoral Commission to submit a list of voters which registered with NHIS cards.
The MP for Bodi, Mr. Sampson Ahi, asked the CJ nominee, “Our judges became the prosecutors and became judges in the same matter and at the end of the day handed down convictions to them [Montie 3.)?”
The legislator went further and requested for “codified rules as to who can do what when it comes to contempt so that the rule of natural justice is not breached.”
Answering the question posed by Mr. Ahi,, Justice Akuffo said the judiciary relies on the office of the Attorney General to prosecute in that type of contempt, but “you will recall in the case you mentioned that that did not happen weeks after the contempt had been committed, so it was an exceptional circumstance but fully backed by the law that governs contempt.”
She continued that in “natural justice, invariably, that person is given the opportunity to purge their contempt but in the case of the Montie 3 we did not give them that opportunity but they did get the opportunity to put up a case if they wanted to” adding: “They were represented by a whole bevy of high-powered lawyers and they in the end decided to plead guilty.”
Per the law, she said, “When a person pleads guilty, you proceed to sentence. So it is [a] normal process and [they] were not denied justice at all.”
But Mr Ablakwa averred that, that explanation was insufficient, as the issue of contempt remained critical in the nation as it sought to undermine the freedom of expression and speech.
In his view, the CJ nominee appearing as the Head of the Judiciary could have given more explanation, especially the manner the law of contempt was used on the Montie-3 and their employers.
The North Tongu MP does not understand why the incoming CJ was able to answer the question regarding the National Media Commission issue, but failed to give same explicit answer when questioned on contempt used on the Montie3.
For him, there is the need for the judiciary to take a second look at the law of contempt and how and when it should apply, stating that, if it remains as it was used on Montie 3, it could degenerate into a big problem in the country one day.
He cited the Delta Force case where a sitting judge was hounded out of office, but the perpetrators are still walking free and to the extent of the Attorney General entered Nolle Prosequi without contempt as it was the case of the Montie 3.
Generally, Mr. Ablakwa said, Justice Sophia Akuffo distinguished herself and proved to be knowledgeable of the job, but failed the nation woefully for her inability to explain confidently on the law of contempt.
While answering question on lawyers’ conduct of advertising themselves, the Chief Justice nominee described it as “distasteful” the practice where lawyers advertise 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.
She told the Appointments Committee of Parliament: “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.”
Mr. Sosu was accused of advertising himself on Facebook, but he has appealed his ban and 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.
The Chief Justice nominee Sophia Akuffo also described mob justice as, “a misnomer and it’s definitely not justice and it’s got nothing to do with the work we do.”
The most recent spate of mob justice included the lynching of army officer Major Maxwell Adam Mahama by residents of Denkyira-Boase who mistook him for an armed robber after spotting a pistol on him.
In the view of Justice Akuffo, quality delivery of justice can help mitigate the mob justice phenomenon.
“I was talking about effectiveness being a component of quality justice and many times, mob justice, I’m not justifying it, but mob justice, because it’s based on misunderstanding of processes, it could be because you didn’t understand why the person was freed or there’s a perception that what’s the point of reporting to the police, what’s the point of going to court about this matter, what’s the point of waiting for the judicial outcome because it will take too long and we won’t even understand what is going on and then people resort to self-help,” she stated.
She added that, “Now when there is a lot of self-help – now mob justice is not only people beating people up – mob justice is land guards, that’s part of mob justice because it’s self-help and wherever you see self-help, it means that certain things have failed, and if it is within the civil realm, it has to do with maybe some delays in case management and so on and so forth so quality justice helps to speed up efficiently because although there is the saying that ‘justice delayed is justice denied’, there is also the flipside to it, which is ‘justice hurried is justice buried’, and it is being able to strike that balance.”
“And so that is one of the areas of concern for the judicial system and for the judiciary because so long as there is mob justice, to borrow your term, it means something is not going right, and, at least, we of the judiciary will do our optimal to ensure that we are not the cause of the mob justice,” Justice Akuffo opined.
During the vetting, Justice Sophia Akuffo described the Justice for All Programme as a “best practice” which she will continue if confirmed as Ghana’s Chief Justice.
“I think the Justice for All Programme, that is the prison court, is a best practice and it’s a method that is being and has been used in many parts of the continent over the years. Not only is it decongesting the prisons but also actually bringing justice to their doors. Therefore, definitely, it’s a quality method and if I’m confirmed, I will continue it,” she said.
The Justice for All Programme is a special in-prison court sitting for remand prisoners and prisoners whose trials are unreasonably delayed. It is aimed at decongesting the prisons.
The programme introduced in 2007 has led to a reduction in remand prisoner numbers in the country, as many gained their freedom after years on remand without trial.
It was one of the legal reforms introduced by retired Chief Justice, Mrs Georgina Theodora Wood, under the auspices of the then Attorney General, Mr. Joe Ghartey, who upon discovering the inhumane living conditions in the country’s prisons after a tour of some correctional facilities, designed the programme to address the challenges of remand prisoners.
Justice Sophia Akuffo has been nominated as Chief Justice of Ghana by President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Akufo in May. If approved by the Appointments Committee after her vetting, she will replace Justice Theodora Georgina Wood, who has retired.
Sophia Akuffo holds a Master’s in Law (LLM) degree from Harvard University in the United States. She has been a member of the Governing Committee of the Commonwealth Judicial Education Institute and the Chairperson of the Alternative Dispute Resolution Task Force.
In January 2006, she was elected one of the first judges of the African Court on Human and People’s Rights. Initially elected for two years, she was subsequently re-elected until 2014 and is at present serving as Vice-President of the Court.
She has written “The Application of Information & Communication Technology in the Judicial Process – the Ghanaian Experience,” a presentation to the African Judicial Network Ghana (2002).
If confirmed by parliament, Justice Sophia Akuffo will be the fifth Chief Justice under the fourth republic after Isaac Kobina Abban, who served between 1995 and 2001.
Edward Kwame Wiredu also served between 2001 and 2003, while George Kingsley Acquah was head of the judiciary from 2003 to 2007 before Georgina Theodora Wood was made CJ from 2007 to 2017.
If approved, Justice Akuffo will be the 13th Chief Justice in the history of the Republic of Ghana.
Justice Akuffo indicated that she was very much concerned about her integrity and is also passionate about the development and stability of Ghana.
Source: therepublicnewsonline.com/ Felix Engsalige Nyaaba