The Haatso branches of the International Central Gospel Church (ICGC) and the Cross Road Community Church Ministries (CRCCM) have been ordered by the Accra High Court to pay damages of GH¢40,000 (GH¢20,000 each) to two residents of the area for excessive noise-making and for being a nuisance.
In a judgement, the court, presided over by Mrs Justice Novisi Afua Aryene, held that the two churches breached building regulations by using a property situated in a residential area for worship without authorisation and that their noise level was excessive and violated the regulations of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
“The EPA found that the noise level had a minimum of 76 decible dB( A) and a maximum reading of 86 dB (A). The EPA daytime permissible noise level for residential areas is 55 dB (A).
On the evidence, I rule that the noise was clearly above the permissible noise level for a residential area where the church was sited,” Mrs Justice Aryene held.
Also the court held that although the two churches claimed that they had a permit from the EPA, they failed to produce a certificate from the EPA which showed that they had complied with the conditions of the permit.
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It also awarded damages of GH¢20,000 in favour of the two residents against the Ga East Municipal Chief Executive.
According to the court, the municipal assembly recklessly disregarded the interest of the two residents — Mrs Patricia Bannerman and Dr Elizabeth Masopeh — and “their rights to quiet enjoyment of their properties”.
Apart from the damages awarded against the three defendants, the court ordered the ICGC and the CRCCM to comply with the EPA’s permissible noise level.
It also ordered the two churches to comply with Regulation 25 of the EPA Environmental Assessment Regulation 1999, LI 1652.
The said regulation stipulates that an entity granted an environmental permit should submit an annual environmental report in respect of its activities every 12 months to the EPA.
It further awarded GH¢10,000 cost against each of the three defendants.
Mrs Bannerman and Dr Masopeh went to the court in 2015 with a case that the ICGC and the CRCCM had become a nuisance in the residential area due to the loud singing and prayers, clapping, drumming and use of electronic musical instruments.
Per court documents, the two moved to Haatso between 2002 and 2004 and that Mrs Bannerman’s house shared boundary with two plots of land that housed a two-storey building and a single-storey building, while Dr Masopeh’s house was directly opposite the two-storey building.
Later, the ICGC and the CRCCM acquired the two properties.
According to the plaintiffs, the CRCCM started church service on its side in 2004 by organising fellowship meetings and singing of hymns which did not create any nuisance, but that changed when the ICGC started its church activities in 2005 and started loud singing, drumming and the use of electronic musical equipment both day and night.
It was their case that following the arrival of the ICGC, the CRCCM also started loud singing and the use of electronic musical equipment to “match that of the first defendant (ICGC)”
Mrs Bannerman in particular averred that she complained that the noise level prevented her baby triplet grandchildren from sleeping, and that when she went to the ICGC to protest one night, the members “rather booed at her and called her names”.
Court documents revealed that the two residents later complained to the leaders of the ICGC in June 2009, but despite assurances, the excessive noise-making continued, compelling them to report the matter to the Ga East Municipal Assembly (GEMA).
As a result, the assembly prosecuted two pastors of the ICGC at the Madina District Court for siting a church in a residential area without permit and generating excessive noise nuisance, contrary to Section 287 of the Criminal Offences Act, 1960 (Act 29).
However, in May 2012, the district court acquitted the pastors on the basis that the assembly had failed to prove the essential elements of the charges levelled against them.
During the trial at the district court, it came up that the ICGC applied for a permit at the municipal assembly to use the property as a worship centre and also build a church seven months before the two pastors were charged. It was also revealed that the assembly granted the permit during the course of the trial.
Based on the permit, the ICGC built a new church auditorium on the property.
After the district court had acquitted the two pastors, Mrs Bannerman and Dr Masopeh lodged a complaint with the EPA, which later assessed the noise level of the two churches and came to the conclusion that it was above the required level.
Case at the High Court
The two residents then proceeded to the High Court to seek, among other reliefs, an order directed at the GEMA to pull down the church auditorium because it was a nuisance and was also built during the course of the trial at the district court.
They also wanted an order directed at the two churches to stop their church activities in a first-class residential area and for punitive damages “for indescribable pain and suffering, sleeplessness, mental agony and possible health problems emanating from such nuisance”.
In their respective defence, the CRCCM and the ICGC denied the charges levelled against them by the two residents, with the lawyers for the CRCCM arguing that there was no evidence that the church escalated its noise level.
The ICGC, in its defence, argued that it had acted in full compliance with the law and that it had applied for and obtained the necessary permit from GEMA and the EPA and that was why its pastors were acquitted by the Madina District Court.
The GEMA, however, failed to enter any defence, leading the court to grant a default judgement against it
The court, in its judgement, dismissed the defence of the CRCCM and the ICGC.
With regard to the CRCCM, it held that the church failed to deny the fact that its members increased and that it resorted to loud singing and clapping and the use of electronic musical equipment as submitted by the plaintiffs.
In the case of the ICGC, the court held that it started its operations in 2005, way before it applied for and obtained the said permit from the municipal assembly in 2012 to use the plot as a worship centre.
“It was not until late 2011/2012 that the first defendant (ICGC) applied for a rezoning of its plot for use as church,” it held.
However, in view of the said permit granted by the assembly, the court did not grant plaintiffs’ relief for the church to be pulled down.