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24.03.2006 General News

Gabby Is A Qualified Lawyer - Akamba Committee

By Statesman

The final report of the Akamba Committee has endorsed the 2004 decision by the General Legal Council to call Asare Otchere Darko (alias Gabby) to the Ghana bar.

The 66-page report devoted less than a full page to resolving the controversy and doubt created and fanned over the Editor-In-Chief of The Statesman's status as a properly qualified solicitor and barrister in Ghana.

“Even though the matter aroused a lot of passion and temper amongst the parties,” the report said of the controversy, “it was most uncalled for since it could easily have been avoided if the whole scenario was approached with circumspection.”

The report stated, “we think that Council [GLC] arrived at a conclusion on the matter leading to the call of Gabby Otchere-Darko to the bar, which we hereby endorse.”

The Chronicle of Wednesday, September 14, 2005 carried a front-page story: STATESMAN EDITOR FAILED BUT WAS CLEARED ON ORDERS.

The story began: “The former deputy registrar of the Ghana School of Law (GSL), Mr John Yaw Opoku has said that Mr Gabby Otchere-Darko, Managing Editor of The Statesman and host of Gabby's Airtime on TV3 was to repeat his class at the law school but was passed on orders.”

Mr Opoku, who was testifying before a committee of inquiry into allegations of wrongdoing against Kawku Ansa-Asare, the Director of the Law School, subsequently admitted under cross-examination before the same Akamba Committee that he knew Mr Otchere-Darko had applied for his two failed papers to be remarked and was successful in one.

He, however, said he only knew of it “unofficially.”

His evidence before the Committee suggested that he had fallen out at that time (during which his appointment with the institution was terminated), with the Director of the Law School. Mr Opoku stressed to the Akamba Committee that he was not suggesting his removal from the School had anything to do with Mr Otchere-Darko's examination results.

The allegation by Mr Opoku as published in the Chronicle ended up in the Fast Track High Court in a defamation case filed by Mr Ansa-Asare against Mr Opoku, Chronicle, and two other media houses.

In his statement of defence to the libel suit, Mr Opoku has denied ever making the statement attributed to him by the Chronicle that Mr Otchere-Darko failed “but was passed on orders.”

Moreover, under cross-examination in the libel case by Benson Tamakloe, Mr Ansa-Asare's barrister, Mr Opoku insisted that he never said Mr Otchere-Darko was unduly passed on orders.

This forced Chronicle to amend its defence, saying “if even what was published was not substantially reflective of what was said at the Akamba Committee the publication is justified.”

Notwithstanding this apparent drawback, the paper's banner headline of Thursday, March 23, 2006, repeated the allegation that Mr Otchere-Darko had “failed but was passed.”

The Statesman's Editor-in-Chief has responded with a query: “I am at a loss as to what is feeding this obsession of the Chronicle to find fault with my lawyer status.”

He continued, “I find it rather interesting, as a journalist, for a paper I have no issue with to choose to select mainly allegations made at the two hearings, the Akamba Committee and the ongoing libel case, which seeks to discredit my legitimacy as a lawyer and yet fail remarkably to report from the same proceedings evidence that seek to discredit such allegations against me. It really beats me.”

The main controversy created around Mr Otchere-Darko's call to the bar was that Mr Ansa-Asare allegedly bent the rules of procedure to allow the journalist to avoid repeating a whole academic year and be referred to re-take a single paper (the Law of Taxation), instead. Had the below-pass marks on Family Law and Taxation stood he would not have been allowed to re-sit.

However, Mr Otchere-Darko at the Akamba Committee tendered in records to show that his petition of September 2003 against his marks was legitimate. Perhaps, as evidence of how badly things had fallen at the Law School, official documents supporting his case went missing from his files in the Law School, only re-surfacing after he made it public at the Akamba Committee last year. Also, to affirm the fact that Mr Otchere-Darko was never passed and called to the bar upon the “fiat” of the Director of the School, as argued in court by the Chronicle's editor this week, two weeks ago at that same Justice Ofoe's court, the Judicial Secretary, who again is the Secretary to the General Legal Council, tendered in evidence minutes of Council meeting indicating that the Council sanctioned the processes adopted in considering Mr Otchere-Darko's petition requesting for a re-marking. The GLC is the supreme authority over legal education in the country.

The Statesman can reveal that on May 23, 2005, the Council wrote a letter to Family Law lecturer, Oti Adinkra, in pursuit of a long-standing disciplinary action recommended against him over the original marking of Mr Otchere-Darko's Family Law paper in 2003.

Mr Otchere-Darko, who expressed surprise at his low mark awarded him, took the option to petition for another look at his results. The former Supreme Court judge, Prof Kludze who re-marked the Family Law paper, gave a damning report against Dr Adinkra.

But, the Akamba Committee report found that Mr Otchere-Darko's initial low marks in the two papers, both of which went up after the re-marking, were not due to malpractice: “The Committee heard from the two lecturers at the center of the perceived victimisation of this candidate and we are of the view that the accusation was a figment of imagination as the lecturers in question discharged their duties creditably.”

Remarkably, the report was silent on the conduct of the former Deputy Registrar before it, and although the Committee had access to documents which supported Mr Otchere-Darko's assertion that Mr Opoku was at post and was indeed the man who processed the candidate's registration form for the re-sit, the Committee reserved its comments on that issue.

The Committee which sat from August 23, 2005 to November 8, 2005 was chaired by Justice J B Akamba and supported by Eric A Agbolosu, Chief State Attorney; Tetteh-Mensah, Assistant Director at the Serious Fraud Office; Eddie Boafo, Assistant Auditor-General; and George Amega, Detective Sergeant, Ghana Police Service.

The report on Mr Otchere-Darko's matter focused more on the administrative handling of his petition. “While we recommend that the matter should be allowed to pass off, we do observe that it nevertheless brought to the fore the poor administrative handling of an issue of such academic importance, which in future should call for mature handling by all parties involved,” it stated vaguely.

It also recommended for a committee to be set up to redress academic grievances of such nature. This, notwithstanding the fact that, the final decision to allow the petition for remarking and to approve of the passed mark in the referred papers all rested and were in fact taken by the General Legal Council. In spite of Mr Opoku's own denial in the court case that he said Mr Otchere-Darko was unduly passed by Mr Ansa-Asare, Thursday's banner headline of the Chronicle read: HOW EDITOR FAILED BUT WAS PASSED.

The paper referred to investigations they had carried out, alleging rather adamantly that in spite of the denial by their apparent primary source, Mr Opoku, “that investigation established that even though the Editor of The Statesman newspaper, Mr Gabby Otchere-Darko had failed in two subjects and ought to have been repeated, he was mysteriously passed.”

The evidence given in court by the Chronicle's acting editor Jonathan Ato Kobie as reported by that same paper yesterday, was noticeably oblique on the said findings of the paper's investigations.

The editor, nevertheless, offered his understanding of the procedures of re-marking in the Law School, though this was challenged under cross-examination by Mr Ansa-Asare, a man whose predecessor, Bimpong-Buta had told the court the previous day was fully conversant with the procedures for re-marking. The Chronicle editor claimed that the amended results after the re-marking should have been jointly approved by the external examiner and the internal examiner, who performed the original marking under scrutiny. The case continues today.

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