Tue, 04 Jul 2023 Feature Article

Has Ghana Bar Association Become Party Political?

Has Ghana Bar Association Become Party Political?

Of late, the silence of the Ghana Bar Association on matters of national importance, particularly the rule of law, justice and human rights has been deafening and of much concern to those of us with interest in these issues. However, over the weekend, I realised that I was not alone. In fact, I have been wanting to express my concerns in an article for a very long time, though I mentioned it in my article on the military brutality at Ashiaman (see, Madness at Ashiaman: Has the Ghana Army Gone back to AFRC/PNDC Days?”, Ghanweb, March 9, 2023). I was therefore pleased to read the sermon of the former General Secretary of the Christian Council of Ghana and Coordinator of Alliance for Christian Advocacy Africa, Rev Dr Opuni-Frimpong (see, “Redeem your sinking image – Rev Opuni-Frimpong to Lawyers”, Ghanaweb, July 2, 2023). He was delivering the sermon at the 41st anniversary mass of the barbaric and gruesome execution of the three High Court judges and a retired military officer on 30 June 1982, which occurred under the PNDC government. This article is a discussion of Ghana Bar Association’s silence.

My understanding is that the Ghana Bar Association is a professional association of Solicitors and Barristers or legal practitioners in Ghana, including Magistrates, which was established in 1958. According to Wikipedia, by convention all lawyers admitted to practice law in Ghana become automatic members of the association. I could not find its aims and objectives from its website but I am sure like all professional associations, one of them would be to seek the welfare and interests of its members and the legal profession at large but I would not be surprised if some of its aims and objectives are similar to those of the Law Society of England and Wales, which among others are the promotion, protection and support for Solicitors, the rule of law and justice because Ghana’s legal system is fashioned on that of the British, except that Ghana’s has almost remained at a standstill since independence.

I am not sure of the regulatory systems in Ghana when it comes to the legal profession, but I assume the General Legal Council is the official regulator for the legal profession as well as legal education in Ghana, including the judiciary. I also often hear from the leadership of the Ghana Bar Association that it is their responsibility to defend and protect the judiciary in Ghana, which is good but what about the Constitution, the rule of law, fair and equitable administration of justice without fear or favour? What about the protection, promotion and respect for human rights? Are these not the noble objectives of their esteem profession and August body? If so, why has the Ghana Bar Association been silent since 2017 and only say something when they are not happy with what the opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC) leadership and supporters say to their discomfort? What about all the abuse of office/power, constitutional breaches and human rights abuses going on in Ghana by state actors?

Those who do not believe what I am saying, let me give you some examples. In 2017, supporters of the ruling party, NPP invaded a properly constituted court proceedings, yet, the Ghana Bar Association did not see any need to express its concerns about the protection and safety of the judge or magistrate in that court or the sanctity and independence of the judiciary. In July 2018, seven Ghanaians were shot and killed as armed robbers by the police at Manso Nkwanta in Asante region but they turned out to be innocent victims and residents of Asawase. This was followed by the violence at the Ayawaso West Wuogon byelection in 2019 in Accra, led by state security operatives to be followed by the Ejura military action that resulted in the shooting to death of two people after the riots by the youth of the town following the murder of the social media activist, Mr Ibrahim Kaaka Mohammed in June 2020. Then the lives that were needlessly lost at the hands of security agencies during the December 2020 general elections and last but not the least, was the March 2023 madness at Ashiaman by the military. I must point out that the government appointed commissions of inquiry to look into some of these matters.

In addition to the above some individuals have suffered human rights abuses at the expense of the state. For example, journalists such as Citi Fm’s Caleb Kudah was arrested and maltreated by National Security and two Modernghana journalists, Emmanuel Abugri and Emmanuel Britwum, with Abugri's alleged to have been tortured at the hands of National Security officers. There are others but for lack of space and time.

Then, there were also constitutional breaches by the president in the way the former Auditor-General, Mr Daniel Domelevo was hounded out of office by the president, which has now been ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme. Of course, some will say the late Professor Attah-Mills also sacked Professor Edward Dua Agyemang as the Auditor-General, therefore, what is the big deal here? There are major differences between the two because in the case of Prof Edward Dua Agyemang his contract had been extended after reaching the compulsory retirement age, which is allowed twice under the Constitution. This is not automatic but at the behest of the president and the late Prof Atta-Mill decided not to extend the contract for a second time. On the other hand, in the case of Daniel Domelevo, it was the presidency that went on a fishing expedition to search for his date of birth after he ruffled the presidency by getting too close senior presidential appointees.

In all the above abuses of power/office, serious human rights abuses and constitutional breaches, the Ghana Bar Association has never said a word on any of them. The very body that claims to protect the judiciary, has it cared to issue a statement after the Supreme Court made its judgement on the Domelevo case public? No. Has the Ghana Bar Association questioned why such a strategic constitutional case took that long to decided to such an extent that it rendered the judgement what is known in law as pyrrhic victory” (a victory that inflicts such a devastating toll on the victor that it is tantamount to defeat. In other words, the victory negates any true sense of achievement or damages long-term progress). Has the Ghana Bar Association questioned why the judgement was released within days of the last Chief Justice, Justice Anim Yeboah, retiring? Of course, his retirement and the release of the judgement could be mere coincidence but I don’t think so. He did not wish to embarrass the president, so it was delayed until he had left office. Justice delayed is justice denied.

I grew up in the era of the Ghana Bar Association being the real opposition and fighting for freedoms and rights for all Ghanaians. These were mostly the days of military dictatorships in Ghana through the 1970s and 1980s. Those were the days when J B Quashie-Idun, JKF Adadevoh, WAN Aumoah-Bossman, ED Dom, KJ Agyeman and Peter Ala Ajetey were the Presidents of the Ghana Bar Association from 1972 to 1989. Today, I ever hear a word from the likes of Mr Benson Nutsukpui, Tony Forson (my junior APSU and St John’s Housemate) and Yaw Boafo the recent and current crop of Ghana Bar Association presidents (2015 to present), unless they are criticising the opposition party leadership. Instead, they have turned a blind eye to what is happening in Ghana.

There is nothing wrong with the Ghana Bar Association being a friend of the judiciary or defending and protecting the judiciary. However, their first duty is to the constitution and the people of Ghana and not only the judiciary. Again, the protection and defence of the judiciary could be done more effectively by being a critical friend of the judiciary.

Toady the Ghana Bar Association is more or less an appendix of the government or the ruling party to the extent that even when a court is invaded by the supporters of the ruling party, Ghana Bar Association that claims to be defending and protecting the judiciary is no where to be seen through their silence. I am not suggesting that the Ghana Bar Association should not be affiliated to a political party. No, far from it because that will be a breach of freedom of association. As a body it can affiliate to any political party it wishes. It’s leadership and members, either collectively or individual can also be members of any political party. However, in their actions and omissions as a body, Ghana Bar Association must not only be fair and objective but must also be seen to be fair to all, including political parties and governments. What is the point in the leadership of Ghana Bar Association, taking on NDC leadership when they criticise the judiciary, yet remain silent when the same judiciary rules that the president breached the constitution by forcibly removing the Auditor-General from office? Again, keep quiet when the judiciary delayed important constitutional judgment for two years to render the judgement pyrrhic victory”? Just imagine what the same leadership of Ghana Bar Association would have said had this happened under the government of the NDC? Ghana Bar Association should remember that the judiciary is not above criticisms, even if you disagree with such criticisms so far as the criticisms do not scandalise the courts or bring the judiciary into disrepute.

The Ghana Bar Association should not deceive itself that everything is fine in Ghana. Perception is important and what is happening in Ghana and its silence is not only perception but real. Your inability or unwillingness to speak up against abuse, stand up for the ordinary people and to defend the constitution, human rights and justice has rendered the association almost irrelevant. Today’s Ghana Bar Association is not the one we knew in the days of the 70s and 80s. Your leadership is a pale shadow of what it used to be in those days because of your partisan politics. You can be political without necessarily being party political as well as be objective and fair to all.

A word to the wise is enough and I hope the leadership and membership of the Ghana Bar Association will seriously reflect on what Rev Dr Opuni-Frimpong told you in Kumasi on Sunday before the body is consigned to the dustbin of oblivion. I live you with this Martin Luther King Jnr’s quote, "The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy."

Kofi Ata, Cambridge, UK