After several warnings to political activists, social commentators, lawyers and journalists, the Supreme Court yesterday shot its “legal bullet” and barred the Deputy Communications Director of the New Patriotic Party (NPP), Mr Sammy Awuku, from attending further hearings of the ongoing presidential election petition.
Per the court’s orders, any other person or groups of persons who from now on undermine the authority of the court will face a harsher wrath of the court.
Remorseful Mr Awuku apologised and promised to retract contemptuous comments he passed about the Supreme Court’s order to journalists and lawyers to refrain from making prejudicial comments about the election petition, but the court decided to crack the whip by excluding him from appearing in court until the final determination of the petition.
In a unanimous ruling, a visibly upset Mr Justice William Atuguba, on behalf of his colleagues, deplored the “pompous power” of political leaders and said the court would have none of it henceforth.
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The court had earlier sought for the whereabouts of Mr Awuku, who later appeared after the court’s break, retracted his accusation of the court being selective and promised to retract same on the platform where he made those comments.
He also promised to retract the said contemptuous statements on other platforms after he had been made to stand in open court for close to one hour to await his fate from the bench, which retired to chambers.
While standing, some lawyers for the petitioners and other party stalwarts took turns to lend support to Mr Awuku.
Powers of the judiciary
The court noted with concern the continuous degeneration of public respect for the judiciary over the past years and also maintained that it had realised its June 24, 2013 order had not been taken seriously by the public.
It, accordingly, reminded the public that the judiciary was the third arm of government and had been given enormous powers by the state to uphold the laws of the country, as well as to protect the interest of the Ghanaian.
It condemned the attempt by some persons to use pompous show of power through “deliberate propaganda” to disturb the stability of the country.
According to the court, it will not renege on its duty to protect the citizens of the country and maintained that failure to exercise its powers to check political organisations from falsely whipping up the passions of their members “will be a recipe for chaos”.
The court stated that much as it had accepted the apology from the lawyers for the petitioners and lawyers for the respondents, it could not allow such inaction to continue and reminded Ghanaians that it was determined to carry out its earlier orders for decorum.
It emphasised that the time had come for it to crack the whip to serve as a deterrent to persons whose actions and utterances had the tendency to undermine the security and safety of citizens.
Prez Mahama not exempted
Although the court had on several occasions warned right from the beginning of the hearing that all persons should desist from making prejudicial comments, those warnings have not been heeded.
What was unique about yesterday’s warning was that the President of the Republic, Mr John Dramani Mahama, was not exempted.
Sounding a note of caution to all persons, including the President, the court said anybody who would make prejudicial misreports or misguided statements on the ongoing petition, would not be spared the wrath of the court, which has been vested with enormous power to protect the sanctity and stability of the state.
Let no one take this lightly
Mr Justice Atuguba then informed the court that the bench had taken such decision with “great par”, adding, “We want Ghanaians to enjoy life.”
Speaking on behalf of other members of the court, Mr Justice Atuguba said deliberate attempts to provoke conflict in Ghana would not be tolerated.
“Let no one take this lightly, we want to let people to be happy in this country. After this step, others will have it different,” Mr Justice Atuguba cautioned.
Members of the bar expressed gratitude to the court.
The final warning
The Supreme Court on June 24, 2013, descended heavily on lawyers and media houses that do not give accurate accounts of what transpires in the ongoing presidential petition.
Sounding a last caution especially to journalists, the court expressed its rage over a section of the media’s “spins and twists” over the petition hearing and warned that it would henceforth not countenance any such inaction.
Making reference to misguided comments from some lawyers and distortion of facts by some media houses, the court specified its preparedness to henceforth crack the whip on anyone whose action undermined its authority.
“We have taken the position that any person – be in the media or not – who crosses the final touchline of the proper coverage and reportage on the court proceedings will be met with the appropriate response from the court,” it stated.
Daily Guide Warned Again
Earlier, Mr Justice Atuguba brought out a copy of the Tuesday, June 25, 2013 edition of the Daily Guide newspaper with the headline, “Atuguba Goes Wild,” and made reference to how the newspaper decided to capture the court’s warning in that form of headline.
The newspaper’s headline was in connection with the court’s June 24, 2013 order to journalists and especially Daily Guide, who the court accused of misreporting on Mr Justice Atuguba’s alleged missing copy of pink sheets.
“We do not want to be too hard on these matters,” he said while holding the paper high, adding, “I do not know if they would be prepared to receive wild sentence from me.”
Clarification on Court’s Orders
The court also observed that a large section of the media reported that the court in a 7-2 decision on June 24, 2013 dismissed the petitioners request for a soft copy of the audit firm’s report on the audit of pink sheets.
According to the court, it understood the misreporting because it conceded it was not explicit in separating the ruling on the KPMG soft copy and its ruling on a request by lead counsel for the petitioners, Mr Philip Addison, that the matter be adjourned to Thursday, June 27, 2013 to enable his team to study the audit report submitted by KPMG.
Mr Justice Atuguba, therefore, clarified that the court unanimously ruled against the petitioners request for soft copies of the KPMG report while the 7-2 majority ruling was in respect of a request by lead counsel for the petitioners, Mr Philip Addison, that the matter be adjourned to Thursday, June 27, 2013 to enable his team to study the audit report submitted by KPMG.
He also stated that because of the technical nature of legal issues and the fact that both rulings were not very clear, “we will take it that it should go”.
However, he warned that henceforth the court would not countenance anybody who would resort to improper sources of acquiring information, as well as misrepresentation of issues in court.
Meanwhile, the Ghana Bar Association (GBA) has welcomed the punishment meted out to Mr Awuku, reports, Donald Ato Dapatem.
It described the actions by the Supreme Court as “a good start because the warnings were a bit too many,” and urged the Supreme Court to next time meet all acts against it that did not measure up to fairness and respect with all the authority at its disposal.
The Communications Director of the GBA, Mr Tony Forson, who was speaking to the Daily Graphic about the decision of the highest court of the land, said it was in order for the Supreme Court to bar Mr Awuku from further attending the hearings.
He described Mr Awuku’s comments as “scandalous to the Supreme Court” and said the court could have given Mr Awuku a custodial sentence but for the intervention of the lawyers from all the sides as well as Mr Awuku’s timely apology.
He said since the inception of the petition hearing, the association had been troubled by the deliberate attempts by some persons to dig deep and expose the background of the various justices sitting on the panel just to prepare the minds of some people if the judgment went a particular direction.
He explained that the Supreme Court did not act on its own accord but sat with the authority of the Constitution and that any attempt to scandalise the court meant that the Constitution of the Republic had been dragged into the mud and such a move must be dealt with accordingly.
By Mabel Aku Baneseh