Lord Polonius: “What do you read, my lord?”
Hamlet: “Words, words, words”.
The venue was the Golden Bean Hotel in Kumasi and at exactly 10:00am of Thursday, 17th November, the participants had got seated and the Chief Justice and other dignitaries strode majestically into the hall. The theme was: “Improving access to Justice in a pandemic through the use of technology”.
The opening prayer started the ball rolling with an opening remark by Her Ladyship Cynthia Pamela Addo, the Judicial Secretary. The M.C. would not spare the Ashanti Regional Minister, Mr. Simon Osei-Mensah to take a rest but plunged him into a “baptism of stress” to give the “welcome remarks”. Mr. Osei-Mensah was elated that a few months after the Chief Justice had been in the company of Otumfuo Osei Tutu, the Asantehene and the President, Nana Akufo Addo, to inaugurate the bungalows for judges, he was here again for another very important exercise-aimed at bringing justice close to the people.
The Chief Justice's Forum had been initiated by the Chief Justice, His Lordship Justice Edward Acquah, and religiously followed by Justice Theodora Wood and Her Ladyship Sophia Akuffo. It is an occasion for a “meeting of minds” among the stakeholders and players of the justice system spanning judges, judicial staff, lawyers, immigration, prisons, chiefs, businessmen and ordinary citizens, to discuss whatever problems any participant face.
The justices and lawyers were there in their numbers, led by the President of the Bar Association, Yaw Boafo, Esq.
The chiefs were equally well represented, led by Mamponghene (Mampong-heene-anglicised) Daasebere Nana Osei Bonsu, who is himself an astute lawyer. At 84, and a chief on the silver stool of Asante, could not see himself bowing before a judge on the justice seat. We thought Elorm Ababio (Ama Governor) would take a cue instead of urging lesbianism, with holes and rings in her nose and exposing her nudity on YouTube. This is advice, not challenging or endorsing the GLC's refusal to pass the first name on the list or to note the caveat in the “PROVISIONAL LIST…” “…your name appearing on the Pass List is not an automatic call…”
His Lordship, the Chief Justice, Kwasi Anin-Yeboah, was upbeat about the theme of the forum: “Improving Access to Justice in a pandemic through the use of technology.” He was concerned about making justice accessible to all persons all over the country, and that technology was inevitable since it would help to introduce efficiency and cut cost. The topic could afford to do without the expression “in a pandemic”?
The Coordinator at the Forum, Dr. Kwaku Agyeman Budu, had done comprehensive research in eight (8) courts in Ashanti, namely, Bekwai, Fomena, Bosomtwe (Kuntenase), Agogo, Effiduase (Sekyere), Nsuta, Nkawie (plus Toase) Mankranso.
With few exceptions, similar observations were made in all the courts visited since the problems cut across: inadequate equipment and software; no ICT officer; leaking roofs; noise pollution; poor record keeping; lack of stationery; lack of water (and improper sanitation); poor washrooms; assailing by goats, dogs and snakes; no Legal Aid Officers, no ADR Officers, and no officer from Attorney General's Department. While many of the courts like Nkawie had an over-abundance of cases to deal with, judges at the Mankranso District Court and the High Court at Offinso could afford to take siestas, because of fewer cases.
The participants were split into five groups Group 1 – Capacity Building drive for judiciary and judicial service; Group 2 – Improving court infrastructure; Group 3 – Enhancing Public Perception of the judiciary; Group 4 – Delay in Justice Delivery; Group 5 – Virtual courts -the way forward. We were in Group 4, and were concerned about delays in filing of cases and had a problem with getting the bailiffs to provide proof of service, absenteeism being one of the causes of delay (Judges, lawyers, clients); delay by Judges who may take a long time to read the various processes; transfer of judges creating the need for starting cases de novo or re-listing as per Order 37 rule 4 sub-rule 4 of High Court (Civil Procedure Rules) CI 47; heavy workload; obtaining records of proceedings; e.g. cases from lower courts to higher courts, inadequate training of staff; delay in e-distribution; forum shopping, eg.by police; withdrawal of cases by traditional rulers for out-of-court settlement.
Some recommendations were made by all the groups, and Group 4 recommended that judges should be encouraged to reduce “magnanimity” and play it tough thus prompting lawyers to stick to rules of procedure. Some judges were mentioned for being sticklers of rules and their “no-nonsense” attitude; there are times when rulings should be given on the spot to avoid delays; and the Ghana Bar Association should discipline their members who deliberately help their clients to cause delays, by resorting to unnecessary circumlocution and sophistry.
In his closing remarks, the Chief Justice was livid about the expansion of the court structures, hence the propensity to get many courts built all over Ghana. And he seeks to get all of them adequately furnished with comfortable furniture, adequate “technology” including computers, laptops and record books.
The Chief Justice had issued a circular (Ref: 9) to all Registrars of Courts on 8th November, 2022 on “Listing of Contempt cases”: saying “…with immediate effect, where a contempt application arises in pending proceedings, the application should bear the title of the pending matter and be placed on the docket of the substantive matter before the same judge. The hearing/listing of contempt applications before different judges cause undue delays in administering justice…” But what leads to these contempt cases in the first place? Flouting a court order, including an injunction. What about Order 1 Rule 2 of C147: “… achieve speedy and effective justice, avoid delay and unnecessary expanse…”
So, the Chief Justice cites the example of a court granting an injunction to an applicant on a Friday, a day prior to a family organising a funeral on a Saturday – when the applicant had a whole month to file the necessary processes. Would this not be an issue that would touch the heart of a sociologist-political scientist-public administrator-philosopher- journalist? Or, perhaps we should discount the Ghanaian (Asante) custom of a family “owning” the body of a dead person (not that of a challenged last surviving “wife” or “spouse”, formation of funeral committees (each with some specific assignments) including collection of the body from the morgue the cost of preparation of the body for the lying-in-state; arranging for spinners, engaging “professional criers”, hiring of tents, chairs, getting invitation cards and brochures printed, arranging for food/accommodation for invited guests and participants, recordists to collect the donation – it is a whole industry! So, while Group 4 looked at the “Delays in Justice Delivery”, Group 3 looked at “Enhancing Public Perception of the Judiciary” and expect the “proceedings to continue on such terms as (the court) thinks fit”. Discretion for a Judge? What perception does the public have about the judiciary? Perhaps all judges in Ghana would take note of what Lord Penance says in Combe v Edward (1878) LR 3 PD 142, “The spirit of justice does not reside in formalities or word nor is the triumph of its administration to be found in successfully picking a way between the pitfalls of technicality. After all, the law is, or ought to be, the hand-maid of justice and inflexibility which is the most unbecoming robe of law often serves to render justice grotesque.”
By Africanus Owusu-Ansah