Contempt of court chargesWe acted appropriately-GBA national officers
The two National officers of the Ghana Bar Association (GBA) facing contempt of court charges have categorically indicated that they acted in accordance with the rules, having been elected into office before the action was taken against them.
According to the respondents, Mr. Peter R. Zwennes and Mr. Frank W. K. Beecham, who were elected during the conference of the GBA in their capacities as a National Secretary and National Treasurer respectively, no restraining order had been issued by any court preventing them from performing their duties as national executives of the association.
Presenting his arguments before the Fast Track High Court (FTC) yesterday, the counsel for the national officers of the BAR, Mr. Ace Annan Ankomah noted that his clients were not liable for contempt since they legitimately held their various positions in the association.
According to counsel, Mr. Zwennes was duly elected as the National Secretary of the BAR in consonance with the constitution of the association while Mr. Beecham was appointed by the BAR counsel as Treasurer for the association in view of the fact that nobody filed for that position.
Counsel pointed out that since the applicant, Mr. Joe Aboagye Debrah, a member of the BAR was burdened to prove the guilt of his clients, his failure to provide clear evidence should, therefore, render the application unmeritorious. He therefore requested the court, presided over by Justice Ofori Atta to dismiss the application brought against his clients.
On his part, an Accra Based lawyer, Mr. Aboagye Debrah, who stood in person, told the court that he relied entirely on his affidavit before the court adding that the court should decide on the issue since the position of the law in the issue was clear.
The court consequently fixed April 8, 2009, to give its ruling as to whether or not the two GBA national officers were in contempt of the court.
Mr. Aboagye Debrah threw a legal challenge against the respondents for holding themselves as officers of the association in disregard to the laid down procedures spelt out by the constitution of the BAR during the association's conference held at Kumasi in the Ashanti region on November 15, last year.
Mr. Aboagy Debrah, who is seeking an order of committal against the respondents for showing disregard for law and order and the sanctity of the court, noted that the continuous action of respondents in their capacities as national officers of the association was in gross disregard for the authority of the court and, therefore, impugns the integrity of the law courts.
Applicant further noted that the actions of the respondents had brought the administration of justice into disrepute despite notice of a pending action for injunction against the GBA in connection to the various offices they purportedly hold in the association.
Mr. Aboagye Debrah contended that the 1st Respondent, Mr. Zwennes communicated on the Association's letterhead in his contested capacity as National Secretary while the 2nd Respondent, Mr. Beecham, per a public notice in the widest circulating daily newspaper in Ghana, the Daily Graphic of Thursday February 19, 2009, signed a demand notice in his contested capacity as the National Treasurer of the GBA to all lawyers who have not discharged their financial obligations to the Association to do so by end of April, 2009.
Additionally, Applicant noted that the Respondents and other holders of National positions of the GBA which are the subject of the substantive writ had been attending meetings of the General Council of the Association, including a meeting held on January 29, this year.
He therefore pointed out that being officers of the court, the holders of the contested national positions and all members of the GBA should act in the manner that would not impugn the integrity of the courts or bring the administration of justice into disrepute, adding that the conduct of the Respondents in holding themselves out as national officers of the Association despite the pendency of the substantive action indicated flagrant disregard and total disrespect for the authority of the court.
In the substantive suit, the Plaintiff is claiming an order of the court restraining the GBA from permitting, allowing, condoning or parading the said elected officials in any manner whatsoever, and/or holding them out as elected national officers of the association for the 2008/2009 legal year or acting as such pending the final determination of the suit.
Additionally, Mr. Aboagye Debrah is seeking a declaration of the court that the election of national officers of the Bar Association on November 15, 2008, flouts the spirit of Article 26(3) of the association's 1994 Constitution and is, therefore, null and void and of no legal effect. Plaintiff is further demanding that the court annuls the election of all national officers of the GBA that took place during its November 15, 2008 Conference.
According to Plaintiff, the scheduled date for the conference to be held in accordance with the association's Constitution being September 29, 2008, to October 2, 2008, was cancelled as members of the Bar were informed at the conference that the Association did not comply with the period of opening of nominations for national executive office, thereby, nullifying all pending nominations for national positions of the Bar Association.
Plaintiff noted that the Defendant duly received all relevant documentation from prospective candidates well before the Conference date but did not at any stage of the Conference communicate the alleged non-compliance with the Constitution until the third day of the Conference when the matter was due for discussion.
The exposure of the association's non-compliance, Plaintiff asserted, was announcement in the wake of a controversy at the Conference following the resignation of the then President- the only candidate for the position of National President then.
The error, Plaintiff claimed surprised some of the candidates as they had met all the requirements for the elections a situation that made the Defendant to admit openly at the conference.
It was further the view of the Plaintiff that the Defendant subsequently announced the opening of nominations scheduled after the Conference, calling on all eligible members to file and contest for executive positions before the elections on November 15, 2008, and the conference adjourned accordingly.
The Plaintiff held that on November 15, 2008, he raised the unconstitutionality of the proposed elections at the Conference but was defeated in a motion and the Conference voted to proceed with the elections as scheduled, where the positions of national officers were duly announced and filled through the said election except that of the National President.
To Plaintiff, the elections for national officers held on November 15, 2008 flies in the face of clear unambiguous provisions in Article 26(3) of the Association's Constitution and therefore invalid.
In its defense, the GBA noted that contrary to the association's constitution, nominations were not formally opened and the list of nominated candidates was not sent to the regional branches for publication but the issues brought to the attention of the conference on November 1, 2008.
Defendant held that the conference consequently exercised its residual powers under its constitution to address the developments by resolving to revoke all nominations filed and re-open nomination as well as fix a date for elections to be conducted.
According to the GBA, the then President of the association was no longer a candidate for the position of National President as at November 1, 2008, following his resignation as National President, and subsequently the withdrawal of his nomination at a meeting of the General Council on September 28, 2008.
Defendant asserted that there was evidence of the acceptance of the actions of the immediate past National President, which was unanimously accepted by the General Council of the association. The Association was of the view that the officers were duly and properly elected and therefore the plaintiff was not entitled to any restraining orders from the court, stressing that it had complied with the tenets of the association's Constitution, noting that the defendant was not entitled to any of the reliefs sought.