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06.10.2008 Feature Article

Row over Tsikata`s case: Is Tony Lithur a lawyer?

1. “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread” - A saying. 2. “It is improper for anyone, anybody or authority to comment on judicial proceedings in matters that are presently pending before the court.” - Mr. Kwaku Ansah-Asare, a lawyer

I MUST be a fool indeed to pit my puny body against the solid, Tony Lithur-led phalanx of legal, political and media Goliaths who have massed up ostensibly to fight for Mr. Tsatsu Tsikata, the former Chief Executive Officer of the Ghana National Petroleum Corporation (GNPC), now serving a five-year jail term for causing financial loss to the State.

I know the capacity of some of them for scurrilous abuse of real or perceived enemies. The newspaper, THE ENQUIRER, for example, has described Mrs. Justice Henrietta Abban, the judge who jailed Mr. Tsikata on June 18, 2008, sarcastically as “the Beauty Queen.”

I have never met Mrs. Justice Abban, but the chances are a hundred to one that Mr. Raymond Archer, the owner-publisher-editor of THE ENQUIRER did not mean to be complimentary, when he so described Mrs. Justice Abban. Did Mrs. Justice Abban's physical appearance have any bearing on the judgment she delivered?

Mrs. Justice Abban has been reportedly threatened by some faceless individual or individuals. It would be extremely dangerous to dismiss the threat as an idle one.

We should not forget that, under the military regime of the Provisional National Defence Council (PNDC), led by the then Flt.-Lt. J. J. Rawlings, three High Court judges, Mr. Justice Sarkodie, Mr. Justice Agyepong and a nursing mother, Mrs. Justice Cecelia Koranteg-Addow, were abducted by operatives of the PNDC under curfew hours, shot in cold blood and had their bodies set on fire.

The crime of the three judges was that they had overturned some of the decisions of the kangaroo tribunals set up by the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council then also led by Flt.-Lt. Rawlings. There is no earthly reason why what happened in the past, cannot a happen today or tomorrow.

In the face of all these dangers, gratuitous insults and possible threats, I have decided to speak because I sincerely think that something is not right with the current “Free Tsatsu Tsikata” campaign.

Whether the campaigners are roused by the purest of motives, or are actuated by pure malice or the desire to achieve political gain, they have either acted out of ignorance, or deliberately chosen to ignore the legal maxim of this article. There is something called “contempt of court”. What is it?

When a case is before a court of competent jurisdiction, until its final determination, the case is said to be “sub judice.” The term is a Latin expression meaning, according to, THE CONCISE OXFORD DICTIONARY, “under a judge.”

The Dictionary gives its meaning as a legal term, thus, “under judicial consideration and therefore prohibited from public discussion elsewhere.” Please note the phrase, “public discussion elsewhere.”

A trial takes place before a judge sitting in his or her court. As long as the case continues to be heard, any public discussion of the case elsewhere, amounts to “contempt of court”.

Of course, the term covers a wider area than merely discussing the case. The CONCISE OXFORD DICTIONARY defines the term as “disobedience to or disrespect for a court of law and its officers.”

The 1963 edition of the book, BREWER'S DICTIONARY OF PHRASE & FABLE, says of the term, “Refusing to conform to the rules of the law courts.” The Dictionary draws a distinction between “Consequential contempt of court” and “Direct contempt of court.”

Consequential contempt “is that which tends to obstruct the business or lower the dignity of the court by indirection. Direct contempt “is an open insult or resistance to the judge or others officially employed in the court.”

If Tony Lithur, Nii Osa Mills, Professor John Evans Atta Mills and one Ackumey, who has recently been loud about the Tsikata case, and others are indeed Barristers-at-Law and Solicitors of the Supreme Court of Ghana, then they are known as “Officers of the Court” and, consequently, presumably know all about sub judice and matters (verbal or behavioural) that can bring a person within the charge of contempt of court.

Indeed, before Professor Mills disgracefully allowed himself to be stampeded into shamefully signing the “Free Tsatsu Tsikata” collection of signatures, he had very wisely refused to comment on the case, saying, “I am also a lawyer and since the case is still before the law courts, I will not comment on it now.” (Emphasis mine).

At the time Professor Mills gave his signature, the Supreme Court was due to sit on Mr. Tsikata's appeal on October 16, 2008. All the campaigners, lawyers, lay persons, partisan politicians as well as non-party people, know this for a fact. If so, why have they deliberately chosen to commit contempt of the Supreme Court itself, by going outside the court room to 'try' the case at interviews, press conferences, in newspapers, on the radio and television? Why are they blackmailing and intimidating the courts in general and the Supreme Court in particular?

Now to this “Free Tsikata” campaign. Since the case has not finally been determined, whom are the campaigners appealing to?

Do they expect the Chief Justice and the Supreme Court to return a verdict of “Not Guilty” as the only verdict to be given?

Do they expect the Minister of Justice and Attorney-General to stop proceedings with a “nolle prosequi” or what? Or do they expect the President of the Republic to personally intervene to stop proceedings, or go to Nsawam Prisons or wherever Mr. Tsikata might be, and release him?

Back in 1997, ex-President J. J. Rawlings pronounced the verdict of “Guilty” on Nana Yaw Oduro, more popularly known as 'A-Life,” while the case was still being heard by a judge. That was a serious case of contempt of court, but he got away with it. The trial judge said that he would not be influenced by the offensive remarks of the then President.

On that same case, on Tuesday, February 18, 1997, Mr. W. Sam-Awortwe, a lawyer who was also the then Deputy-Commissioner of Police-CID, called an infamous press conference at which he professed to have uncovered fresh evidence that established the guilt of Nana Yaw Oduro. Like Mr. Rawlngs, the man got away with his contempt.

It would appear that the tradition of Mr. Rawlings and Mr. Sam-Awortwe is being followed with impunity by people who claim to be officers of the court, but who have no respect for the very court which they go to, in order to practice their profession. Mob rule!!!

Ghanaian Chronicle
Ghanaian Chronicle, © 2008

This author has authored 1023 publications on Modern Ghana. Author column: GhanaianChronicle

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