Strengthening the justice system in Ghana

Chief Justice Theodora Georgina WoodThe role of the justice system in Ghana and the stakeholders in the system, namely: the Bench and the Bar which partner as the third arm of government in a budding democratic dispensation as ours, is not only unique but also sine qua non.

The unique role which traverses both the Executive and Legislative arms of government is that it serves as the final arbiter where the two other political arms of government are at the crossroads or fail to agree.

A case in point is the 2012 presidential election which had to go before the justice system, precisely the Supreme Court, which eventuary decided the case one way or the other on August 29, 2013.

Because of its exceptional role in ensuring good democratic governance, whenever it is faced with challenges such as corruption, deviant lawyering, unscholarly judgements, falling standards of practice, perceived affiliation with one political party or the other and other improprieties, the players involved in the justice system would, as a matter of urgency, address the challenges to make the judiciary strong and independent in order to restore the much needed confidence, respect, honourableness and sanctity that are the hallmarks of the legal profession.

For Ghana, a significant step towards this end would be the immediate re-introduction of conferment of the accolade, Senior Advocate of Ghana, (SAG) on deserving lawyers.

When practitioners become aware of the existence of the rank of SAG, which marks the height of their profession, they wound most likely exhibit greater professionalism; there would be a surge in vibrant lawyering and propriety and there would be a massive reduction in alleged cases of corruption and deviant layering as complained of by the Chief Justice, Justice Georgina Wood.

This is because it is an honour that every lawyer would aspire to have after their names to crown their years of practice.

The history of the accolade is that by a resolution passed by its members at one of its annual general conferences, the Ghana Bar Association, in 1988 instituted the award scheme to confer the degree and status of Senior Advocate of Ghana (SAG) on lawyers who had distinguished themselves in the legal profession.

The scheme, crafted in the likeness of similar schemes in other countries like the Queens’ Counsel (QC) in England and Wales and the Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) in Nigeria, aimed a getting lawyers in Ghana to excel in their professional work as well as display high levels of integrity in their practice.

The GBA, had inter alia, altered the black gown prescribed by the General Legal Council for use by lawyers in court by sewing on it a red lapel which distinguished the SAGs from other lawyers. Furthermore, special areas were reserved for the exclusive parking of the cars of SAGs at the court parking lot. Also, SAGs had the special privilege of always having their cases in court called first.

After about three awards involving about 12 beneficiaries, a member of the Ghana Bar Association, Mr. Ward-Brew filed an action at an Accra High Court on May 17, 1991 challenging the capacity of the GBA to create and confer such an award.

Ward Brew contended that the award, like in other jurisdictions, could only be conferred by the General’ Legal Council and that the scheme, as constituted by the GBA, was improper, illegal, unlawful and void as it was inconsistent with the spirit and letter of the Legal Profession Act 1960 (Act 32) as amended, as well as the subsidiary legislation made under it such as the Legal Profession (Professional Conduct and Etiquette) Rules 1969 (LI 613).

Counsel for the GBA, Nana Akufo-Addo filed a defence for the Association contending that Ward Brew, had no cause of action.

He contended that the Association, by instituting the scheme, had not violated any provision of Act 32. According to Nana Akufo-Addo the GBA had instituted the scheme in order to honour its leading members and this did not need any statutory authorisation.

In a judgement delivered on 27th March, 1992, the court presided by Adjabeng, JA, held that the scheme affected the other very important sections of the legal profession, namely: the courts and unless the honour conferred was recognized by the Chief Justice and the courts it would remain a hollow one.

The court agreed with the plaintiff that the appropriate body qualified to institute such a scheme was the General Legal Council which had been given the power to ensure the smooth running of the legal profession to see to the control and discipline of lawyers and to make rules or regulations to enable it to carry out its functions by virtue of the Legal Profession Act, 1960 (Act 32) and LI 613.

Justice Adjabeng referred to the situation in Nigeria, where the analogous scheme of Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) was instituted under the Legal Practitioners Act, 1975 (Cap 207).

He noted that Section 5(1), (2) and (3) of the Act provides that:

“5 (1) Subject to subsection (2) of this section, the Legal Practitioners Privileges Committee, established under subsection (3) of this section may, by instrument, confer on a legal practitioner the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria”.

The suit is instituted “Ward-Brew V Ghana Bar Association (1993 – 94) 2 GL.R 439

From the time of the judgement of Adjabeng, JA, the award scheme had been in abeyance until 2012 when the GBA led by its President, Nene Abayaateye Amegatcher initiated moves to get the scheme back on track, with the General Legal Council as the awarding body.

In an interview in Accra sometime last year, Mr. Amegatcher disclosed that the Association had submitted the following proposal to the Council for consideration and approval towards re-launching the new scheme:

That the scheme shall be introduced by the General Legal Council to confer deserving awards on lawyers. Such awards may be in the form of a Senior Advocate of Ghana with privileges attached, awards for pro hono, legal aid, human rights among others.

That the General Legal Council may constitute a committee made up of council members, retired council members and other distinguished Ghanaians in various fields of endeavour to do the selection of the proposed awardees for conferment. This will give the awards a national recognition, make it transparent and give it credibility.

That the modalities, qualifications, rules and procedures for the awards shall be determined by Council or the committee set up by the Council.

According to the GBA boss, the Privileges Committee had already come up with its report and said “we should start reviving the award of the title SAG. They have come out with the guidelines for awarding the SAG. In fact, over the years they had referred it to the General Council of the Bar for them to look at the conditions. After the conditions have been scrutinized it would be sent to the Attorney General to be passed into legislation”.

There is no gainsaying the fact that if the award is revived, it would go a long way to resolve most of the challenges that the justice system might be facing.

Another area which would critically be looked at in order to strengthen the justice system and enable it to play its constitutional role as the last hope of the common man is the Ghana Law School where Nene Amegatcher admitted there was a challenge.

The GBA boss who was answering the question: “what was the standard of law practice today as compared to the standard so many years ago” noted that the Ghana Law School which was built in 1958 by Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah is the same facility that is for the current population. “We have not added one lecture theatre or so to it.

So, we now have so many people who want to read law and currently we have a class of about 150 or 200 students to one lecture and with one lecturer taking on 200 students there is no way by which that lecturer will be able to identify everybody in the class and know those who are weak and concentrate on them, because the class is too large and people do not understand”.

The lawyers’ alter ego said: “If you turn down their application you will see the pressure: students, parents, family members, and top ranking members of the society coming to question why. But that is the reality on the ground. So where the emphasis now is on numbers rather than quality, definitely the standard will fall”.

He added: “it is a challenge that we are addressing at the moment. I will not tell you that the challenge is not there; that challenge is there; we are trying to address it. The General Legal Council is trying so that we improve the quality and standard of lawyers that we are producing in this country”.

A further significant step to strengthen the justice system would be for the disciplinary committee of the GLC to mete out sanctions to erring members of the system.

The disciplinary body of the GLC could open a Roll of Dishonour to enter the names of lawyers found to be deviant or corrupt, or remove such practitioners altogether by withdrawing their licenses or disrobing them for other improprieties.

In Nigeria, the sitting President of the country’s Court of Appeal and three of his learned brothers were removed in 2011 by the National Judicial Council following the roles they played in deciding a number of petitions arising from the 2011 general elections.

Above all the GBA would build a solid relationship with the media to ensure that its activities, especially those that have to do with the conferment of the SAG, are well publicized for the benefit of practitioners and the public at large.

James Dadzie

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