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26.09.2005 Feature Article

Are you a Pocket Lawyer?

Are you a Pocket Lawyer?
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(GNA feature) by Francis Ameyibor

Accra, Sept. 26, GNA - Pocket Lawyer!!! What gibberish is that? Asked a Professor of law, who was visiting Ghana to do a research on the legal culture of the country. Of course the term is not only gibberish but also outlandish to non-Ghanaians.

In Ghana Pocket Lawyer simply refers to a person, who even though has no legal training, bullies friends with legal terminologies at the least provocation. Such a person leads local debates, serves as information centre and confuses most listeners.

The liberalisation of the airwaves have in recent times created another crop of pocket lawyers known as "serial callers," who would phone-in to radio stations to contribute to topics under discussion whether he or she knows the issues at stake or not - that is democracy at work.

To enhance sound debate, equip Ghanaians with legal knowledge based on the 1992 Constitution, the National Commission for Civic Education (NCCE) since 2001 established the annual Constitution Week celebration. Efforts to popularise the Constitution have been given an additional impetus with the publication of pocket size copies.

The attractive 190-page publication has a yellow cover with a replica of the national flag embedded at the top left and bottom right corners of the book to give it nationalist portrait.

Speaking to the Ghana News Agency in an interview, Mr George Odamtten, Chief Executive Officer of All Shore Publishing Company, originators of the publication, said the notion that the Constitution was the preserve of lawyers and politicians should give way to the collective study and understanding of the fundamental principles of democratic governance of the beloved country.

He said the pocketsize copy was to enhance civic education and create national awareness through strict enforcement of laws. "The basic tenets and principles of the laws enshrined in the Constitution will not be realised until the majority reads, understands and appreciates the importance of complying with common rules designed for the collective interest."

The preamble of the 1992 Constitution sets out in clear terms the aims and objectives of Ghana as a nation among the comity of nations. "The Constitution of the Republic of Ghana in the name of the Almighty God. We the people of Ghana, in exercise of our natural and inalienable right to establish a framework of government which shall secure for ourselves and posterity the blessing of liberty, equality of opportunity and prosperity.

"The principle of Universal Adult Suffrage; rule of law; the protection and preservation of Fundamental Human Rights and freedoms, unity and stability for our Nation, Do hereby adopt, enact and give to ourselves this Constitution."

The 26-Chapter Book also highlights areas such as the territories of Ghana; citizenship; the laws of Ghana; fundamental human rights and freedoms; the directive principles of State policy; representation of the people; the executive; the council of state; the legislature and the judiciary.

Others are freedom and independence of the media; finance; the public service; the police service; the Prison Service; Armed Forces of Ghana; Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice; National Commission for Civic Education; Decentralisation and Local Government; Lands and Natural Resources.

The rest are Chieftaincy; Commission of Inquiry; Code of Conduct for Public Officers; Amendment of the Constitution and Miscellaneous, two schedules and oaths. The first schedule deals with Transitional Provision, which is divided into four parts as the First President; First Parliament; The Judiciary and Miscellaneous.

The second schedule dwells on the Oaths of Allegiance to be sworn before the President, the Chief Justice or such other person as the President may designate; and The Presidential and Vice Presidential Oath to be administered by the Chief Justice before Parliament.

Others are the Judiciary Oath to be sworn before the President, the Chief Justice or such other person as the Chief Justice may designate; the Oath of Member of Council of State, the Oath of Minister of State and the Cabinet Oath, all to be sworn before the President. The rest are the Oath of Secrecy to be sworn before the President, the Chief Justice or such other person as the President may designate; the Official Oath and the Oath of the Auditor-General to be sworn before the President or such other person as the President may designate. The Speaker's Oath and the Oath of Member of Parliament shall be sworn before the Chief Justice.

Ghana's political history is a chequered one, with alternation of power between elected governments and governments that assumed power through military intervention.

According to political analysts, constitutional development, which transformed the Gold Coast into the Republic of Ghana, covers a period of over 110 years.

This started with the legislative councils; Aborigines Rights Protection Society of 1898; National Congress of British West Africa of 1917; the Guggisberg Constitution of 1925; the Burns Constitution of 1946; and the Coussey Constitution of 1951.

Others are the Nkrumah Constitution of 1954; the Independent Constitution of 1957; the First Republican Constitution of 1960; the Second Republican Constitution of 1969; the Third Republican Constitution of 1979; and the current Fourth Republican Constitution of 1992, which has survived three successive elections and a peaceful transfer of power from one elected political party to the other for the first time.

These developments, therefore, called for a national effort to protect and defend the current Constitution to strengthen democratic governance in the country.

Mr Laary Bimi, Chairman of NCCE, said the new political culture calls for understanding of the basic tenets of democracy with its associated rights and obligations and the strengthening of democratic institutions to ensure the survival of the Constitution.

Mr Bimi said in an interview with the GNA that constitutional rule and democracy would only thrive in a proactive civic society supported by a vibrant, free and independent press and judiciary and a in society in which individuals were alive to their responsibilities and were ready to assert their rights.

"Indeed, it is important that the Ghanaian community develop, strengthen and institutionalise the culture of constitutionalism in the hearts and minds of all, irrespective of age or sex."

However, one of the main challenges facing the Ghanaian society today is how to support and deepen the democratic process. While it is easier to put in place multiparty elective processes, the more difficult road to democracy is the development of durable institutions that will protect, defend and uphold democracy in a society where the tradition and culture of liberal democracy had not been the norm.

According to political experts, liberal democracy is generally predicted upon the adoption of a liberal constitution with all the guarantees of human freedom under the constitution.

Quite unfortunately, many Ghanaians, including intellectuals, politicians, academicians and security agencies, have in one way or the other exposed their ignorance of the principles and objectives of the 1992 Constitution.

This phenomenon, if allowed to continue for a long time, could be the bane that would destabilise our growing democracy hence the need for civic education and a challenge to every Ghanaian to equip himself or herself with the basic knowledge of the Constitution.

It is in this connection that the publication of pocketsize copies to educate members of the society on their rights and responsibility under the Constitution is a step in the right direction.

According to Mr Bimi, "unless we deliberately develop the norms and traits of democracy in the society, especially among the youth, we run the risk of establishing elected dictatorship with all the symptoms of democracy but without the form of democracy."

The publication would also help the national efforts for the attainment of a well-informed society on their democratic rights and good governance, as well as making the Constitution available and accessible to most Ghanaians.

The framers of the Constitution provided certain safeguards for its preservation by crafting entrenched provisions, enjoining the public to resist any attempt to overthrow it and empowering Ghanaians to take steps to restore it should it be overthrown, suspended or abrogated. 24 Sept. 05

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