Not surprisingly, cases heard at the Supreme Court tend to generate historic outcomes, memorable headlines and quotes. But, in my estimation, an excerpt from the proceedings last week, in the ‘Boakye Mattress’ estate litigation, must rank as one of the most noteworthy – and baffling.
Reported in the Daily Graphic of May 6, it could be summed up as the lawyers asking: of all the cases at the Supreme Court, why did Graphic decide to report on our clients’ case?!
According to media reports, the lawsuit is over the estate of the late business magnate Edward Osei Yaw Boakye, of United Mattress fame, the first mattress factory in Ghana established in the 1950s. Although Mr Boakye was engaged in other businesses, he was popularly known by the nickname ‘Boakye Mattress’.
Mr Boakye was undoubtedly a man of formidable business acumen and repute, with numerous international ventures to his credit. He died in August, 2006, and in his will “left much of his estate in the care of the E.O. Boakye Trust Fund to be administered for charitable works”.
The building at the centre of the litigation is located between the Golden Tulip Hotel and Opeibea House, in Accra.
The parties involved are the Edward Osei Boakye Trust Fund (judgment creditor); son of the deceased Yaw Boakye (judgment debtor) and FBN Bank (garnishee bank).”
Case lawyers: Mr Patrick Sogborjor – for Yaw Boakye; Mr Kojo A. Sarfo – FBN Bank; and Ms Amina Ali Issahaque – for the Trust Fund.
In October, 2008, the first court case was filed by the estate trustees, but they lost at the High Court. However, they won at the Court of Appeal in 2011.
Yaw Boakye filed an appeal at the Supreme Court but the parties decided to settle the matter based on terms of settlement, which was adopted by the Supreme Court as consent judgment.
But I need to narrate the gist of the Court matter; so the following is the abridged version of the report published in the Graphic of
Friday, May 6, under the headline “Justice Honyenuga stops lawyers from ‘questioning’ Graphic reporter
— Lawyer Anyenini puts up strong defence”.
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THE GRAPHIC REPORT
The Supreme Court has decided not to question the Daily Graphic Senior Court Reporter, Emmanuel Ebo Hawkson, about the content of a story and his source of information relating to a case before it.
The court, presided over by Justice Clemence Jackson Honyenuga, blocked an attempt by lawyers involved in the case to put Hawkson in the dock to reveal the sources of the information he used for the story.
Hawkson had written a story published in the Daily Graphic on April 13, 2022 with the headline “Trustees chase Yaw Boakye for property: As controversy over Osei Boakye’s assets deepens”.
Lawyers for the parties had complained about the story and urged the court to order Hawkson to appear before it and reveal his source for the story. They claimed that the case was not of public interest and wondered why of all the cases before the Supreme Court, the Graphic should be interested in their case.
Consequently, the court summoned Hawkson to appear before it on Thursday, May 5, 2022, which he did, with his counsel, Samson Lardy Anyenini.
Lawyer for Yaw Boakye, Patrick Sogborjor, claimed that Hawkson had breached laid down regulations relating to reportage of court cases.
According to counsel, Hawkson had made reference in the story to an application which had been filed but was yet to be heard by the court.
“We wonder why an article of this nature which was of no public interest was singled out of the many matters pending before the Supreme Court and printed (emphasis added).”
In his response, Lawyer Anyenini said counsel for the judgment debtor had accused the reporter of breaching certain regulations in the reportage without assisting the court with the said regulations.
However, after listening to the submissions of Lawyer Anyenini, and the lawyers for the parties, Justice Honyenuga decided that Hawkson need not answer any questions and subsequently “discharged” him.
The court said if the lawyers had concerns about the story, they knew which remedies to explore.
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I find it an intriguing suit, but my interest is principally in the astonishing position of the lawyers, clearly questioning the news sense of the Graphic.
Strangely, they were not challenging the truth of the report, but rather the decision of the newspaper to publish the story, a case heard in open court!
How would the lawyers know that none of the paper’s readers in the country, or abroad, would be interested in this case? What would be their proof?
Anyhow, should court cases be published only if the lawyers, or the litigants, approve of the publication?
I believe that if the lawyers had been asked to show why this case is NOT of public interest, they would have had a very hard time.
Some of the reasons why I think the Graphic was right to decide that the case was of public interest are:
- It involves the will of a late, prominent industrialist.
- ‘Boakye Mattress’ was well known for his pacesetting enterprises, initiatives and charity works.
- A known victim of the erstwhile Armed Forces Revolutionary Council’s believed hostility towards indigenous businesses, his story is of public interest.
- As this particular matter has been in court since 2008, doubtless it has its followers.
Moreover, possibly, every Supreme Court case affects the public in one way or the other, sooner or later, because even a seemingly innocuous lawsuit may lead to a ruling that will impact on future litigations, or find a place in the law books. Thus the public should know about its proceedings.
Furthermore, again, this suit was not heard in camera.
Of course, nobody can compel the lawyers to agree with the paper’s view. That is their prerogative.
Similarly, it is the right, and duty, of a media house, in this case the Graphic Editor and his team, to decide what will be of interest to their readers.