The past few years have not been rosy for the judiciary, as the Judicial Service was inundated with allegations of bribery and corruption in high places in the services.
The United States Embassy in Accra in its 2004 Human Rights Report on Ghana released last week put it bluntly that, “the judiciary was prone to influence and corruption and lacked adequate resources.”
“There were numerous allegations of corruption within the judicial system. On August 2 the Chief Justice said that some judges had not heard a single case or written a single decision all year, says the report.
According to the report, a 2003 account adopted by the Parliamentary Select Committee on the Judiciary provided details on corruption in the judiciary, including accounts of extortion, misuse of remand, bail and contempt of court charges for bribery; and acceptance of gifts or money in exchange for expedited or postponed cases or losing records.
The committee recommended establishing and enforcing codes of conduct, transparent complaint procedures and disciplinary mechanisms. “However, none of these recommendations had been implemented by the year's end', says the report. In 2003 when the Chief Justice came into office he promised to clean up the judiciary and increase transparency of the service by releasing an annual report that would account for service's activities. Subsequently, a Complains Unit of the judiciary was established to receive and investigate complaints of corruption, delays and unfair treatment. According to the annual report of the service, 258 complaints and petitions were documented between July 2003 and July 2004. “Of these, 63 cases were disposed of, 74 came under investigation and 121 were pending at the end of the report under review”, says the U.S Embassy report.
In November 2004, Public Agenda published a petition titled “The Chief Justice Must Read this”, in which an aggrieved party (Nana Ama Obenewa) drew the Chief Justice's attention to a land case in an Accra court.
The writer bitterly complained about corruption in the Judicial Service. “The values of justice is better served when marginalized citizens reclaim their voice and express dissent against rights-stifling rulings from judges who are less fair and critical in the interpretation of the law and administration of justice”, the complainant said. Following the publication of this complaint, the Head of Petitions and Complaints of the Judicial Service on January 10 this year requested Public Agenda to furnish it with the contact address of the complainant. Public Agenda has been trying to reach the complainant and is happy to announce that Obenewa is ready with a long list of grievances to meet the Chief Justice, justice Kingsley Acquah or his representative at an agreed date and venue.
The U.S. Embassy report says there were frequent reports that large numbers of prisoners were held in detention for extended periods, sometimes for years without going to trial. Sensitised by the situation, in July, 2004 the Chief Justice inaugurated a National Center for Arbitrators. This center was established following the success of the government-sponsored alternate dispute resolution pilot (ADR) programme in Accra and Tema during which 185 cases were resolved in 2003.
Despite allegations of the perversion of justice flying in the face of the Judicial Service, the report noted that in Ghana, unlike other countries, defendants are presumed innocent, trials are public, defendants have a right to be present, to be represented by an attorney and to cross-examine witnesses. “In practice, authorities generally respected these safeguards”, the report said.