Why the Chief Justice can Intervene in the Contempt Matter‏

BY: Isaac Yeboah

Chief Justice Georgina WoodMy attention has been drawn to comments to the effect that the "Chief Justice cannot intervene in the trial by instructing the panel of judges to do or not to do something."

This view is erroneous. To understand why, one has to appreciate the difference between direct and indirect contempt. The key distinction lies in whether the contumacious acts are committed before or outside the court. Direct contempt is committed before the court, as in someone disturbing the proceedings of the court. Indirect contempt is committed outside the court, as in the current situation, which necessitated my petition.

If the acts are committed before the Court, then direct contempt can be dealt with summarily by the offended court. On the other hand, it is trite law that indirect contempt must be proved through the testimony of third parties or the contemnor. Moreover, because the conduct giving rise to an indirect contempt does not threaten a court's immediate ability to conduct its proceedings, indirect criminal contempt may not be punished summarily and normal adversary procedures are required.

Further, in most cases, an accused can ask for a trial by a non-interested panel where the contumacious conduct involves disrespect to or criticism of a particular panel or judge. Indeed, in more advanced jurisdictions, the disrespected judge (or panel as here) is disqualified from presiding, at the contempt hearing, unless the accused consents.

Thus, the Chief Justice can suo moto take this contempt case from the current panel of the Supreme Court. Indeed, it will offend justice, if the panel making the accusation is the same panel that prosecutes and passes sentence.

S. Kwaku Asare