When the Chief Justice, Mr. George Kinsley Acquah, sometime last year publicly deplored the situation where some judges sitting at the Cocoa Affairs Court, were awarding costs against traffic offenders without any justification, the public seem not to have got the import of what was happening at the bench.
The gravity of the situation is now sinking home as the Auditor-General, the Police Service, as well as some of the judges accused of having applied a repealed and therefore non-existent law are giving their angles to the story.
There is a common cliché that 'ignorance of the law is no excuse' (when one had breached that law). However, when a judge who should be interpreting the law, to ensure that all who came before him got justice apply the wrong law to sanction an accused person, that calls for a very serious concern.
Should we just sanction the judges and end the discussion at that? Or do we in addition reverse the sanctions to where they ought to be. There is evidence that long after the Chief Justice had publicly condemned this practice of the judges, the practice did not stop.
One of the judges who had been mentioned was on radio yesterday morning asking why he alone was being mentioned since about five of them were ignorantly applying the repealed law! He further revealed that an accused person who had been sanctioned in the manner complained of had even appealed his conviction to a Superior Court and the decision of the Circuit court had been withheld This judge contended that even though he had been made aware that the particular law that gave power for judges to award cost against offenders had been repealed it was never brought to his attention. It is important to find out whose responsibility it is to notify judges of new laws when they are passed.
Also, the prosecutions in cases are the ones who prefer charges against accused persons under relevant laws. Both the prosecution and the courts are there to promote the course of justice.
One could say, that after all knowing the law does not guarantee a fair interpretation of it in its application. However, for Circuit Court and High Court judges to be ignorant of the law is very ominous even granting that they are human.
On daily basis, ignorant citizens are prosecuted, and some convicted for committing acts they never knew the law frowned upon, and therefore constituted an offence.
Considering the fact that these are persons who have no relations whatsoever with the administration of justice, and therefore laws that ought to be respected, drives home the gravity of what happened, not only at the Cocoa Affairs Courts but perhaps in other courts throughout the country.
Without holding brief for the judges and the policemen in the dock, it also appears that proper investigations have not been conducted into the incident, to assure ourselves where exactly every cedi of the fines and 'costs' awarded in these cases went to.
It must be clear to all of us by now that we need some knowledge about basic laws that apply to us in areas such as: professional field, marriage, child rights, and the general rights and responsibilities of all citizens.
The National Commission on Civic Education (NCCE), Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ), as well as the various NGOs that have as part of their stated objectives, education of citizens, and to this end attract funding, must all step up their educational activities. When justice goes awry, the innocent suffers!