A Justice of the Supreme Court, Mr Justice S. A. Brobbey, has urged Ghanaians not to allow their religious beliefs or modernity to influence them to disregard the country's rich customs.
He said all the customs had moral objectives needed to promote good behaviour and ensure peace, stability and development in the various traditional areas.
Mr Justice Brobbey made the call at the second Annual Re-Akoto Memorial Lectures in Accra yesterday.
Organised by the Students Representative Council of the Ghana School of Law as part of the 48th Law Week celebration, the lectures had the theme: “The Role of Chieftaincy in the Constitutional and Economic Development of Ghana”.
Mr Justice Brobbey stressed that even though Ghanaians might feel that those customs were appalling or outrageous there was the need for them to respect the “feelings and views” of their framers.
He said it was wrong for the public to agitate for the abolition of customs that they perceived to be contrary to their Christian or Islamic beliefs.
The eradication of such customs, he said, must be left in the hands of the chiefs who passed them.
Justice Brobbey said if Ghanaians agitated for the abolition of such customs or derided them “you can affect the sensibilities of the people”.
However, he said, in the case where the custom encouraged crime, it had to be modified.
“We should not condemn our culture because of small mistakes that modernity has helped us to identify,” Mr Justice Brobbey advised.
What Ghanaians should do, he said, was to make recommendations for modernising the customs rather than abolishing them.
Justice Brobbey, who spoke on “The Role of Chieftaincy in the Constitutional Development of Ghana” said from the colonial days to the present period, chiefs had been charged with the responsibility of making suggestions or recommendations for improving or modernising customary law.
Those responsibilities, he said, had been emphasised in Articles 272 and 274 (3) of the 1992 Constitution, as well as Part VII of Act 370, and indicated that the courts too had been given similar responsibilities.
Justice Brobbey said Article 39 (2) of the 1992 Constitution mandated the abolition of customs which dehumanised people or encouraged people to commit criminal offences, while Article 26 (2) mandated the prohibition of similar customs.
He said despite these Articles, “any move towards abolition of customs and cultures should be handled with extreme circumspection, failing which we may end up indulging in an exercise in futility”.
On the judicial functions of chiefs, Justice Brobbey said although the law barred chiefs from passing judgement on cases, they still settled cases.
He, therefore, asked legal practitioners to debate the issue of granting judicial power to chiefs, urging, “let us not turn a blind eye to the issue”.
Justice Brobbey said the Article banning chiefs from active politics had been criticised as infringing on the fundamental human rights of chiefs in their freedom of choice enshrined in Article 21 (1) of the 1992 Constitution.
The Paramount Chief of Anfoega and President of the Anfoega Traditional Council, Togbe Tepre Hodo IV, who spoke on “The Role of Chieftaincy in the Economic Development of Ghana”, said the institution of chieftaincy as the oldest form of leadership in Ghana and other parts of the world had been one of the most enduring traditional institutions in the country.
He said throughout the pre-colonial, colonial and post colonial periods, chieftaincy had preserved itself from the numerous socio-political and legal obstacles in the country.
He said through those activities, the chiefs created jobs for their people and these benefited the whole country.
In a speech read on his behalf, Otumfuo Osei Tutu II said the depth of the presentations which touched on politics, democracy, fundamental human rights and the rule of law would help in understanding and creating synergy among the traditional leaders, the government and other social organisations in the country.