Lawyer criticises two Justices in election petition case

BY: Sebastian Syme

A private legal practitioner and law lecturer, Mrs Clara Kasser-Tee, has criticised the conduct of two Justices sitting on the presidential election petition in which leading members of the New Patriotic Party (NPP) are seeking to overturn the 2012 election declaration by the Electoral Commission.

 The two Justices, William Atuguba and James Dotse, grabbed the headlines on two separate occasions when the National Democratic Congress (NDC) applied to be joined as respondents in the case.

 On Thursday, January 10, 2013, Mr Justice Atuguba burst out in anger, charging the justices to be strong and truly independent, when the petitioners raised an objection to the composition of the panel.

 Mr Philip Addison, lawyer for the petitioners, neither told the court who amongst the nine justices he was objecting to, nor the grounds of the objection, but that did not stop Justice Atuguba from bursting out.

 “This country is solid but is breaking down because principles are being chopped down to pedestrian level. The Court must be strong and truly independent. The health of [our] country depends on us," he stated, banging the table.

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 Although Mr Justice Atuguba did not explain the reasons for his outburst, Nana Ato Dadzie, a member of the NDC legal team, told journalists that he had heard on radio that the petitioners were objecting the inclusion of Mr Justice Atuguba on the grounds that he was related to Dr Raymond Atuguba, Executive Secretary to the President.

 When the case was recalled on Wednesday, another judge was reported to have issued a vehement denial to allegations being peddled by some high ranking members of the NDC, some of whom are directly connected to the case, that he, Mr Justice James Dotse, was formerly a member of NPP and was indeed a former Volta Regional chairman of the party.

 Mr Justice Dotse in open court admitted he had heard on radio that he was a former Chairman of the NPP, an allegation he insisted was untrue and challenged anybody with such evidence to make it available.

 He said neither he nor the court would be intimidated from carrying out their constitutional duty.

 But the utterances and conduct of the two justices have been contentious, with some stakeholders criticising the judges.

Mrs Kasser-Tee told Joy News that although the judges were humans and had feelings, they were not entitled to behave the way they did.

She said if an issue had not been raised in open court by the feuding parties, it was completely out of place for the judges to listen to radio and bring up issues that had been discussed on radio, remotely or closely related to the case, and bring it to open court.

 Mrs Kasser-Tee added that judges occupied a sensitive position and must live above public banter.

 She feared the judges’ final decisions may be clouded by the controversies on radio.

 Former Second Deputy Speaker of Parliament, Prof. Mike Ocquaye, in part, agreed with the views by the law lecturer.

 He, however, stated that the judges had a right to clear whatever factually inaccurate statement made about them, but stressed that they must be cautious in order not to expose themselves to public ridicule.