As we begin a new year, we need to appraise the performance of the Judiciary, the third plank of government in the country, after the Executive and the Legislative.
In this article we shall look at some of the continuing challenges confronting the administration of justice in Ghana, and what could be done to improve on the performance of the judiciary.
Commendable and developmental have been the administration of former Chief Justice, her Lordship Mrs. Georgina Wood, in getting a new High Court Complex for Accra.
The complex has given dignity and respectability to the legal and judicial profession. Beyond this, appeal courts have been established in Cape Coast, Koforidua, Kumasi and Tamale, enabling appellants ease of access to the courts of justice.
Most courts have also been provided with gadgets for recording of trial, and that has equally enhanced the administration of justice in the country.
Let’s look at some few things we could think of to elevate judicial administration to a higher level of attainment.
Specialisation by judges
The dynamics of globalisation and technology have created a complex web of legal relationships that inevitably get into contractual complications.
Although judges of the Supreme Court exhibit catholicity of knowledge in matters that appear before them, I think it would be most helpful if judges at the High and Appeal Courts are programmed to have external, specialised courses, to bring them up-to-date with the changing legal landscape.
As many as could be financed must be financed to cover a wide spectra of specialist laws.
The more knowledgeable our judges are, the better their judgments in the cause of justice.
Ghana is a member of the Commonwealth, and the countries have the Common Law denominating their jurisprudence.
It should therefore be possible to have an exchange programme among judges of member states.
The obvious advantage to the participating countries is that each country would be enriched by the experience that the visiting judge brings to bear on the host.
We have all the Commonwealth countries to work with, and I would imagine the immense benefit to Ghana and the others too if such a programme is instituted.
The exchanges should be at the Court of Appeal and Supreme Court levels.
For example, late Chief Justice, his Lordship Justice Apaloo, was Chief Justice of Kenya, 1993-95.
Rules of Court
With reference to CI 47 (High Court), CI 19 (Appeal Court) and CI 16 (Supreme Court), there are practical, procedural challenges with these rules.
It would be very useful for the Rules Committee to invite opinions from lawyers and judges on any point of doubt or usefulness regarding the rules, and send an opinion, with suggestions or alternatives, for their consideration.
The Ghana Bar Association should be helpful in this exercise. Eg. Order 8 Rule 3 (1a-m) of CI 47: Service out of the Jurisdiction: This covers various scenarios that require leave of the court to be sought before issuing a writ.
Simply put, it requires that where you have a case with say a foreign company incorporated overseas, but doing business in Ghana, you must seek leave of the court before suing them overseas.
My proposal is simple. Any and every foreign company that has an agency or office operating in Ghana should suffice for the purposes of a suit, to be served in Ghana.
No leave should be required, unless the foreign company/person is exclusively outside the jurisdiction of Ghana. Eg. MAERSK is a shipping line in Ghana, with headquarters overseas.
When you have a problem with MAERSK, instead of suing them here, you must seek leave to serve the writ on them overseas! What illogic! Waste of time! Waste of money!
Revision of the Order is necessary. See Tafa & Co (Ghana) Ltd v Tafa & Co Ltd (1977) 1 GLR 422-427
Cost of appeal
Appeals are too expensive in Ghana. So many people have had their cases truncated at the level of appeal, good though their cases are.
The cost of preparing appeal records should be drastically reviewed. His Lordship the Chief Justice and the Ghana Bar Association must review the procedures and cut down cost and time.
Length of trial
I was at the Land Court, Accra, and I saw a set of dockets that have been belted! The dockets looked wearied and old; 25 year-old land case! Ghanaians spend an inordinate time, money, and energy on land cases.
When a Judge studies a case and sees where the truth lies, must he keep quiet for the Lawyers, in our adversarial system, to slug it out year after year till the trial ends? And, sometimes, the good party loses because of technicalities which the judge knows of!
Is this a legacy of the common law that we inherited from the British, and are we to continue with it? What legal/judicial system is operational in the Francophone countries, where cases are speedily adjudicated and done with?
Can Ghana be innovative and blend some of the strengths of the Francophone system with our own?
Registrars: The registrars are the court managers; without them the courts and judges cannot function. Are they accorded the respect they deserve?
The Chief Justice cannot reform the judiciary without inputs from the registrars.
They must be consulted! Besides, registrars of the High, Appeal and Supreme Courts must have official vehicles assigned to their offices.
Frankly, it does not appear to me the judiciary respects the registrars.
Maintenance of courts
This is very poor. I could state a litany of things wrong, but I shall not. One or two would suffice.
The former Commercial Court at the Supreme Court precincts has been neglected.
The building is dirty; the window panes are grimy; the air-conditioners are not working; the toilets are closed there, and also at the high and circuit courts!
Again, as one descends the steps to the Law School, one notices that that whole area is filthy and unmanaged. It is in the interest of the Chief Justice to make time to inspect his courts.
Another matter relates to the grounds at the Tema Courts behind the TMA. On a dry day, dust whirls into the offices and lodge on the dockets and everything!
On a wet day, we carry muck into the courtrooms! What must be done is obvious, and the Chief Justice should work at it.
These electronic gadgets are available at the superior courts. They should also be made available at the lower courts: Circuit and Magistrate.
We should not see these gadgets as status symbols, and discriminate in their usage.
His Lordship the Chief Justice and the Ghana Bar Association must work in a spirit of cooperation and invite opinions from lawyers, judges, and citizens, on the administration of justice in Ghana, and, I dare say, they would have much to aid them in improving the overall delivery of justice in our country.
The writer is a lawyer.