Court throws out judges’ suit

•    Mrs Georgina Theodora Wood — Chief Justice

• Mrs Georgina Theodora Wood — Chief Justice

The Accra High Court yesterday struck out an application for injunction filed by 22 Circuit Court judges and magistrates in the judicial bribery scandal against the committee set up by the Chief Justice to investigate their alleged misconduct.

Consequently, the disciplinary committee would continue with its proceedings.

Striking out the case, Justice Gertrude Torkonu, an Appeal Court Judge sitting with additional responsibility as a high court judge, held that the court could not play a watchdog role on duties of the Judicial Council that are purely administrative.

Justice Torkonu averred that the work of the committee was to establish the veracity or otherwise of the claims against the judges and did not connote interference as alleged by the plaintiffs.

At the last adjourned hearing, the court ordered both the state being represented by Acting Solicitor General, Mrs. Helen Ziwu and lawyers for the plaintiffs to wind up their arguments for and against the injunction application.

It is the case of John Ndebugre, counsel for the judges that the rights of his clients were flagrantly interfered and abused.

He said the commissioning of the panel by the Chief Justice, acting in consultation with the Judicial Council was unconstitutional and of no effect.

Describing the committee’s action as frivolous and vexatious, Mr. Ndebugre held that the committee was infringing on the rights of the judges by adopting the “wrong procedure”.

He said Regulations 38 of Legislative Instrument (L.I) 319(2) states that the proceedings must be conducted by a High Court Judge appointed by the Chief Justice and not the Judicial Council.

Besides, he said, the committee’s incoherence on whether it was doing summary or formal proceedings was whimsical and capricious.

He said the mandate to embark on a formal proceeding must be backed by law and that when the committee had no jurisdiction, whatever it did was visciated.

He said the law required due process be followed based on the mandate of Article 151(1) of the 1992 Constitution which empowered only the Chief Justice and not the Judicial Council to initiate processes leading to the removal of judges who misconducted themselves.

Beyond that he claimed that the Judicial Service Act and Sections 18(1) of CA 1960 clearly spelt out the procedure in dealing with disciplinary actions against judges.

Therefore, he maintained that where the Judicial Council was treading in the way in which they were hearing the case, “they are acting ultra vires of their powers”.

Given that the judges had to answer to any alleged misconduct, Mr. Ndebugre said, the first step was for the Chief Justice to put them before the court, and secure a conviction against them before they could be investigated.

Responding, Mrs. Ziwu argued that the council had jurisdiction to investigate the judges because they assisted the Chief Justice in executing her mandate.

She said the committee was embarking on a fact-finding mission to establish a prima facie case against the judges, adding that the plaintiffs action had no merit, mischievous, misconceived and intended to frustrate the process.

She said in so far as the judges constitute members of the judiciary, the committee had the mandate to apply punitive sanctions on them should they be found culpable.

Admitting that the decision to upheld the injunction or otherwise was discretionary, Mrs. Ziwu reminded the court of the need to maintain the status quo.

She said the court should also consider the balance of convenience and determine whether a refusal of the application would have dire consequences on the plaintiffs or not.

Making reference to the authorities and articles cited by Mr. Ndebugre, the Acting Solicitor said those provisions which the lawyer sought to rely on were supplanted by the 1992 Constitution.

To buttress her argument, Mrs. Ziwu cited Articles 151, 161, 297 and 12 as the reasons for which the court should not entertain the plaintiffs.

By Malik Sullemana

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