Circuit Tribunal System Abolished
Community and circuit tribunals effectively ceased operations on 1 December this year, after 10 years of existence in the judicial administration system of the country.
Following their abolition, the traditional magistrate and circuit courts have been restored. The Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, last year hinted at the government's decision to abolish the tribunal system and replace it with the traditional courts.
A visit to the courts on Monday revealed that only the presiding judges sat to hear cases. There were no panel members. The regional tribunals are, however, yet to be scrapped. A source at the Attorney General's Department in Kumasi said in an interview that the regional tribunals, which are firmly established in the Constitution of Ghana, can be abolished only by an Act of Parliament.
However, the community and circuit tribunals were established by a Court Act in 1992 and, therefore, do not demand parliamentary approval for their removal.
Nana Akufo-Addo, in sounding the government's determination to abolish the tribunal system at the annual general meeting of the Ghana Bar Association (GBA) in Sunyani last year, said the quality of justice built into the tribunal system was very poor and that the tribunals had become synonymous with corruption, confusion, chaos and delay in the administration of justice.
He also indicated that the tribunal system was very expensive and added that last year alone, an amount of ¢3.4bn was earmarked to cater for the allowances of 710 panel members in the country. Nana Akufo-Addo contended that the huge amount spent on the panel members could be used to finance development projects in the country.
Judges, magistrates and tribunal chairpersons went ahead to endorse proposals for the abolition of the tribunal system during the annual general meeting of the Association of Judges and Magistrates in Accra last year.
The Graphic on 5 October 2001, reported that the judges, magistrates and tribunal chairpersons described the system as a waste of resources and time. The members of the bench stated that the low calibre of its members was not in consonance with the country's judicial system. They contended that cases handled by the tribunals could effectively be handled by the traditional courts.
At that conference, the Chief Justice, Justice E.K. Wiredu, was also reported to have said that the time had come for the scrapping of the tribunal system and replace it with the traditional courts since the former had not lived up to expectation.
The Deputy Judicial Secretary, Nicholas Agbevor, said in an interview in Accra on Monday that the issuance of Executive Instrument 33, Act 620, which replaces Court Act 459, comes into immediate effect. He explained that the abolition of the tribunal system does not mean any of those courts has been phased out.
According to Agbevor, it is only the panel members of the tribunal system who have seized to be part of the new order, adding that “they were not even full-time staff of the Judicial Service”. He said the panel members were given sitting and transport allowance, not salary.
Agbevor said the chairpersons of the community and circuit tribunals, who were legal practitioners, now become automatic magistrates and circuit court judges of the new magistrate and circuit courts. He said the cases which were pending before the tribunals can continue to be heard if the parties agree on it or they may have to be started altogether.
Asked if end-of-service benefits will be paid to the panel members, the deputy judicial secretary said it has never been in the scheme of things of the management of the Judicial Service. He explained that because the panel members were not full-time staff of the Judicial Service, provisions were not made for such payments, neither have there been any demands to that effect, adding that “their letters of engagement were forthright about their service conditions”.