Godfred Yeboah Dame — Attorney-General, Dr Cassiel Ato Forson — Minority Leader
Godfred Yeboah Dame — Attorney-General, Dr Cassiel Ato Forson — Minority Leader
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Allegations against Attorney-General: Implications for judicial process

The Minority Leader in Parliament, Dr Cassiel Ato Forson, is charged with causing financial loss to the state and is currently standing criminal trial together with a businessman.

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This is no laughing matter because the consequences of being found guilty means the deprivation of their daily life and liberty routines.  Given the stakes, such trials must be devoid of any actions or inactions that potentially raise doubts about the integrity of the process. I was reminded by a lawyer in discussing the allegations that — “it is a fundamental principle that justice must not only be done but must be seen to be done.”

It is, therefore, extremely worrying, as reported, that during trial and under cross examination the third accused person in the case made the following statement — “The A-G has on several occasions engaged me at odd hours to help him make a case against A1 and I have evidence for that. If he pushes me, I will open the Pandora’s box. I don’t understand why the A-G will accuse me of defending A1 when I’m here to defend myself.”

The statement has been interpreted to mean that the Attorney-General has engaged in conduct designed to pervert the course of justice. This is a serious allegation. The Attorney General, and rightly so, has denied these allegations. 

Worrying allegations

I am willing to give the Attorney-General the benefit of the doubt and trust the better angels in him. It however does not mean that there are no worrying points about these allegations.

First, these allegations potentially taint the case. The accused persons are standing trial for having caused financial loss to the State. This is a law designed to fight corruption in government.

Public officials in the course of duty must not engage in acts of corruption and harm the State. Therefore, if there are facts to suggest that a public officer has acted in contravention of the law, it is only proper to hold them accountable. But the integrity of the process is just as important, if not more, than the eventual outcome of the accountability process.

Nothing about the process should give the slightest impression that something untoward happened along the way because of the desire for a particular outcome. Second, it reinforces the perception that such trials are politically motivated, even when they may not be.

Any keen observer of our Fourth Republic will agree that the tendency is for current governments to hold accountable officials of previous governments on matters of corruption.

Essentially, post regime accountability after change of government is more common than in regime accountability. The usual response from political actors is that these trials are “witch hunting exercises.”

It may well be that the accused persons are rightly being tried for having caused financial loss to the State. However, in the face of such allegations, citizens may end up questioning the State’s motivation. 

Citizens’ confidence

Third, such allegations have implications for the confidence citizens have in public institutions and the judicial process. It is precisely because of this reason that I was quite worried at the posture of the spokesperson for the Attorney General’s office in a media appearance on Joy News’ The Probe.

I understand the need to debunk the allegations, but it cannot be done with a posture that appears to be saying “this is really no big deal.” The initial press statement released by the Attorney-General’s office, in my opinion, was sufficient for the time being.

And if deemed not to be so because of the additional questions being raised, then any sort of public engagement on behalf of the office must be done in a way that recognises the weight of these allegations and, as I have previously said, the consequences it has for public confidence in institutions and our judicial process.

Fourth, I have often spoken about this notion of The Appearance Test vs The Legal Test. We often subject everything to The Legal Test by asking “did the conduct break any law?” and once we can check off the boxes by answering “no” then there is no cause for alarm.

But it's The Appearance Test (how things look) that often chips away at public confidence in public officials and institutions. In my humble opinion we tend to be too nonchalant and don't really care much about passing The Appearance Test.

Public confidence in our institutions is currently too low to have it deteriorate any further.

It is unclear, at this point, what will become of these allegations. Perhaps the various worrying points expressed here and by others are important enough to warrant a thorough examination to make sure that nothing erodes the confidence citizens have in this trial but more importantly in our justice system.

The writer is the Project Director, Democracy Project.

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