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05.03.2009 Feature Article

My day at a fast track high court

I have put my inquisitive cap on lately trying to look behind 'steel doors'. It does remind me of the period when one was growing up. One dared not ask too many questions. Growing old, there is no one breathing over my freedom to search, pry and know. If those days were today, it would have been beautifully captured as an infringement on one's human rights. Modernity is good even though it has its own disadvantages too.

Equipped with my freedom and the right to know therefore, I made it to one of those places where one is likely to find freedom and justice should someone step on one's toes with malice. I actually made a stop last Wednesday at the Fast Track High Court to witness what goes on there and see how fast the tracks could move. The last time I was at the high court was some 30 odd years ago when as a young staff writer at the Daily Graphic, I covered a trial case there. I knew for sure that things have evolved since and so was keen to find out the extent of the evolution.

I was a little apprehensive as I crawled through the snail paced High Street traffic. I was not sure whether 'visitors' were allowed at the court's premises more so the courtroom. I was not too sure whether I was properly attired. And since I wanted to make notes, I wondered if I could carry a pen and a notebook inside the court room without any appropriate identification. Then I thought, should I not have made enquiries from my many legal friends before setting out. But no, I was going in the name of curiosity so pre-knowledge was not the name of the game.

Before long, I was at the gates of the Accra High Court and the two metal gates manned by a plainclothes man was being opened for me. He was definitely not a security man because he was not uniformed as such.

I got a convenient place to park as another plain clothes man directed my parking. As I got out of my car, I thought to myself, 'would anyone ask me to report anywhere?' 'Was I going to be asked which court I was going to?'

I sailed through all those self-inflicted and unnecessary apprehensions and walked straight to a notice board as if searching to see if my 'case' was up and where? There were a few prison officers and Lawyers in their gowns and wigs hanging around downstairs. I found it a bit chaotic and decided not to stop and ask questions but continue as if I knew what I was about. I saw some people climbing up the stairs and so decided to also go up.

Fast Track High Court 6 which was to my immediate left was wide open and the court was in session. I did not want to betray myself as an 'intruder' so I walked straight in without hesitation. I immediately took a seat at the back. Did I do something non-conforming? I thought so as I noticed the two gentlemen who were following me inside bowed from afar to the Judge. It dawned on me that I had not conformed to some etiquette and since ignorance was no excuse, I quickly settled down ready to learn some of the rules of the house before I got evicted. I checked around to see if there were signs of hidden cameras.

I reached for my mobile phone and switched it off completely. I was now comfortably seated in Court 6 to observe, listen, make notes and hopefully not fall asleep halfway through it as I had already spotted two persons completely gone. They were asleep.

How can anybody come and sleep in a court room? Two hours after sitting through case after case, I realised maybe why. There was nothing 'fast track' about the pace at which proceedings was going on. The cross examinations, the long exhibits from A to Z, the arguments and counter arguments, the big English words spoken with impeccable accent that were being thrown across from both sides and the pace at which the pile of files were being sifted through as the clerks called case by case; all that was enough to send someone who had waited from 9a.m. for his or her case to be called to slumber.

I was beginning to have a change in my mind as to the picture of a fast track court. Generally, my expectations of the ambience of a High Court were somewhat not met. I found the court room and the surroundings somewhat casual rather than serious. Even though there are visible warnings to switch mobile phones off, one could hear somebody's text message alert going off and quite loud too.

Immediately outside the courtroom there was so much talking, distracting attention. Inside, there were chats and whispers going on sometimes making hearing from the back a bit difficult especially when the microphones shift a bit from the speaker. I looked to find a sign, 'silence in court', but there was none. The continuous filing in and filing out by lawyers, court clerks, plaintiffs, defendants and their sympathisers all added to the distractive nature of the courtroom. Maybe, my expectations were too high?

The distractions aside however, I love the proceedings in a court room. It is one place to witness the display of true respect at its highest. I love it when they say My Lord! Yes, a Lawyer premises every address to the Judge with the salutation, 'My Lord' and so does the person in the witness box. The language between the Counsel and the Judge is very civil. All the courteous words one could find in the Oxford dictionary or the English Thesaurus are stringed together by counsel as they develop their arguments. Even when the lead counsel's voice gets charged at 'his or her learned friend' at the opposite side, the soothing calm voice of the Judge diffuses any tension. There is a lot to learn and digest from court procedures.

I noticed that Lawyers and all others leave the courtroom with a bow to the Judge. After sitting through five or so cases, one of which was a lengthy cross examination with many exhibits, I was contemplating bringing my day to a close. I thank God that I did not doze off and was able to observe proceedings and actually take some notes as well.

As I got up from my seat, I remembered one duty to perform. I bowed to the judge and quietly sneaked out. Down at the ground floor, something caught my attention. It was a notice pasted to a door to my left which read: 'OUT OF BOUND, STAFF ONLY'. I thought, no, not at the High Court. Should it not be 'OUT OF BOUNDS, STAFF ONLY'? I dared not challenge it in case I got challenged myself.

Back in my car, I thanked my stars that I was not charged, neither did I swear by the Bible or make any pleading. There were no objections to my sitting through the cases and jotting down notes. I made one mistake but I made it up before I left. I had adjourned my visit to the Accra High Court, the custodian of Freedom and Justice until another date. I liked the visit to Court 6 and will definitely be back.

Written by Vicky Wireko [[email protected]]
Source: Daily Graphic (Reality Zone)

Daily Graphic
Daily Graphic, © 2009

This author has authored 236 publications on Modern Ghana. Author column: DailyGraphic

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