Foul language: Supreme Court issues final warning

BY: Isaac Yeboah

Philip Addison, lead counsel for the petitionersLead counsel for the petitioners in the on-going election petition hearing, Philip Addison, on Wednesday got the Supreme Court panel of judges to issue a final house-keeping warning against indecorous language use to the parties.

And the warning came with an exhaustive reminder to the parties of the powers and capacity of the court to deal appropriately with errant parties if they would not heed the direction.

Addison had said repeatedly in open court that he did not trust the Electoral Commission (second respondent in the case) ‘one bit’. He was continuing his cross-examination of Dr. Afari-Gyan in the petition challenging the outcome of the 2012 presidential election.

The show of distrust followed a request by EC chairman, Dr. Kwadwo Afari-Gyan to be allowed to cross-check an extract of what Addison had said was the final voters’ register given the parties by the EC for use in the 2012 polls. Afari-Gyan had said he wanted to compare the extract with the Commission’s own records to ascertain if it was the same register.

But Addison did not agree to the EC keeping custody of the document and requested that it be returned, following which counsel for the EC, Mr. Quashie-Idun asked what Mr. Addison was afraid of in leaving the document with the second respondents. Quashie-Idun also insisted that the document be marked for identification before being given to Dr. Afari-Gyan.

Following interventions by the bench, Addison said he would rather leave the document in the custody of the court so that Dr. Afari-Gyan could bring his copy to court and do the comparison, insisting that he could not trust them with the document.

“Counsel, you asked him, he said give me up to tomorrow I will check it so…” said a member of the bench.

Addison: They seem not to trust me and they want me to trust them. I don’t one bit trust them. One bit, I don’t. The document can be in the custody of the court I will not let them take this document away. I will not let them take it away. I don’t trust them one bit, one bit.”

Justice Vida Akoto Bamfo drew Mr. Addison’s attention to his choice of language and asked if it was not sad that he made those comments before the court.

“Well, My Lord I have said what has not been said, their attitude. I wanted my document, look at their attitude they put up here, it’s so sad. I’m sad. That they should even think that I’ll take this document and because I’ve doctored it. Really?...” replied Addison.

Justice Baffoe Bonnie then steps in: Mr. Addison, you were a few minutes ago talking about the shifting of the goalpost. You see, you are seeking to put this document in evidence and asking questions on it and the witness says, I want to check and compare. So if you decide to take the document back, what is he going to compare with?  What is he going to be comparing with?

Addison: That is why, if your lordship will recall, yesterday, for the avoidance of all this and this kind of petty mistrust I said they should bring their document, they should bring their register and they didn’t accept it. You see, to avoid all these doubts I said bring yours, if your lordship will recall that was my request yesterday. They refused and I have brought this and look at all this doubt that is being created. Now it is that they want the soft copy, so I said bring me back the document I’ll bring you the soft copy.

Baffoe Bonnie: No, no, you see you are not getting it. The witness says they supplied you with final voters’ register. You said that you didn’t get any hard copy and that you made this out of the soft copy given to you. Even that alone suggest that this is not what they gave you…

Addison: My Lords, for the avoidance of doubt, we will leave this copy with the court. They should bring their copy, it’s as simple as that. They should bring their copy, I will leave it with the court, I do not think that I will leave it with this witness, they have been so untruthful throughout this proceedings, I don’t trust them one bit.

Justice Baffoe Bonnie: But those statements are clearly wrong. You see, I think this message has been shown to …

Addison: My Lord…

Justice Baffoe Bonnie: Please listen to me, when I’m talking you have to keep quiet. You see this message has been delivered so many times. Whatever you say, is to the bench. If you say you don’t trust, if you use any negative words, they impact negatively on the bench, so you shouldn’t be using those words, that is clear and simple. I don’t see why you don’t get it. I mean these…What, what, what can we be doing here if we have to be throwing words at each other? We can’t achieve anything. The people of Ghana want the truth and justice so if you have any… if you don’t trust them, this is not the way of going about it, keep it to yourself, this whole thing is being broadcast live and then the whole international community get to know that this is the language that is being used in the Ghanaian courts? I mean, clearly it’s wrong.

Addison: Well My Lord, I hear you, except to say that far serious and stronger words have been used in this court without any comment from the bench. Criminality has been used to apply to us, not a word came from anywhere.

Justice Atuguba: Now, let us say this, it’s not everything that the bench must specifically comment upon. Sometimes a general statement is made that covers what has arisen. If it comes and no complaint is made or it passes we feel that ok…, but from time to time we do call attention that this matter should be avoided. I quite remember at a certain stage I clearly said that the slate had been wiped clean of these things, that there will be a fresh start and you know, we do not want to be petty-minded but the insinuation of what you’ve said is that the bench has not been fair to both sides, on equal terms, and that one, I do not think it’s a fair castigation of us. But the clear implication of this is that we now have to apply the rules of the ethics, the rules of courtroom procedure. We’ve always said that lawyers appearing, both at common law and all the statutes required of the legal profession act, are officers of the court. We have those powers to deal with the conduct of any lawyer appearing before us, so many – we can walk you out, we can deal with you for contempt, we can refer you to the disciplinary committee – all these are ample powers. But we feel that power is for the benefit of human beings and not for its sake… If you feel that we are failing in our duty and we start punching then that is not our fault. So ok, finally, and all you here are our witnesses, the slate, for the final time has been wiped clean. Let’s proceed. Click on this link to listen to the exchanges.

The court resumes Thursday with the continuation of Dr. Afari-Gyan. The petitioners – Nana Addo Dankwa-Akufo-Addo, presidential candidate of the New Patriotic Party, his running mate, Dr. Mahamudu Bawumia and NPP chairman, Jake Obetsebi Lamptey, want the court to overturn the outcome of the polls and declare Nana Addo as the victor instead of the declared winner, President John Mahama. They contend that a number of irregularities and malpractices during the polls resulted in President Mahama being declared winner.

Story by Isaac Yeboah/
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