The persecution of Ato Forson has put the rule of law itself on trial

Feature Article The persecution of Ato Forson has put the rule of law itself on trial

The criminal case brought by the Attorney General against the Minority Leader, Dr Cassiel Ato Forson together with Richard Jakpa, a private businessman for allegedly causing financial loss to the republic in an ambulance deal in the sum of €2.37 million raise the question: what is the role of law? Is law a ritual for, or a restraint on, the exercise of power in Ghana?

The rule of law is an ideal and an ideology that defines, delimits and restrains the exercise of power by the powerful.

With roots in Aristotelian thought, the rule of law entered Anglo-American legal traditions with the Magna Carta in 1215, which established written constraints on the King’s exercise of his power.

Then, in 1636 when Sir Edward Coke, a judge appointed by the King of England, informed his King that judges schooled in the “artificial reason” of the law, and not the King himself, interpret the law. Coke established for the first time that law is independent of the King’s will; law is not whatever the guy with power says it is.

Several decades later, our Founders took Law one step further, enshrining in our founding documents the idea that each man was created equal, under God only, and endowed with rights that are not subject to the King or any other earthly power.

The flaw in the Rule of Law is that it’s still a human exercise, prone to the virtues and vices, passions and perspectives of the ordinary people in the system.

Which brings us back to the Attorney General’s case against the minority leader, Dr Cassiel Ato Forson and the question this case raise as Ghana and the world watch: Is Ghana a rule by law or a rule of law?

A casual observer might think Dr Ato Forson is being prosecuted for actually causing financial loss to the state but listening to the relevant details of the now famous Jakpa tape, it appears the Attorney General's main purpose seems to be the general defamation and persecution of the minority leader for the purposes of political expediency.

Yes, the Jakpa tape clearly shows that there was a grand collusion to implicate Dr Ato Forson in the Ambulance trial and have him jailed at all cost.

Indeed, today’s world features many petty tyrants of Vladimir Putin’s ilk, who use the tools of the state to persecute their perceived enemies.

But the law and evidence help to elucidate some themes that lead any reasonable observer to categorically differentiate between persecution from prosecution.

As a matter of fact, in corruption trials ranging from former French president Nicolas Sarkozy to Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and South Africa’s Jacob Zuma, democracies young and old have proved capable of conducting robust investigations, trials and even detentions of leaders, without officials overstepping constitutional restraints or generating cycles of recrimination.

Oftentimes, distinguishing good faith proceedings from bad faith witch hunts is not a fact-based exercise, especially for the targets of investigations and among their supporters.

Unfortunately, however, it does appear that there's an attempt to weaponize the judicial system in Ghana to nail an innocent man.

Oh yes, with the content of AG/Jakpa leaked tape, it is not hard to ascertain the political agenda at play here. I thought it was bad but it really is awful.

Truly, this weaponization of the judicial system against Ato Forson, and the plethora of apparent professional misconduct on the part of the Attorney General laid out in the Jakpa tape, is all evidence of a two-tiered justice system in Ghana today.

Of course, it was a bit depressing how much the Attorney General got to say on the leaked tape, and rightly so, lawyers everywhere are reading the indictment all over again and, scratching their heads and wondering: how can this case be allowed to go forward? On its face, the indictment appears to have fatal flaws.

The public is rightly horrified to see the nation that we love slowly degrading into a banana republic that persecutes political opposition. This undermines our credibility as a beacon for democracy and the just rule of law.

All people of goodwill should agree that the legal persecution of political opponents lines up more with autocracies and tyrannies than our system of constitutional democracy

In short, this is a huge case, and it’s not just about Dr Ato Forson. The judges and appointed officials who are bringing and hearing this case on behalf of the people of Ghana should understand that the entire Ghanaian legal system are on trial too.

The world is watching, everyone knows Dr Ato Forson is the opposition leader in parliament and that the NPP government hate Ato Forson with a sometimes blind passion, so the ordinary presumptions of fairness and regularity are under the microscope.

And also, to reiterate, the rule of law in Ghana has deep roots and broad reach, but it’s still a human enterprise that will thrive or wither based on the reason and courage of the people who comprise the system.

Don’t screw it all up just to screw Dr Ato Forson.

Dela Coffie is a communications consultant and political activist.

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