Thursday, 22 June 2017

Roles and expectations of the newly sworn in Chief Justice, Justice Sophia Akuffo

History was repeated June 19 when President Akufo-Addo swore in Justice Sophia Akuffo as the 13th Chief Justice of Ghana, the second female to have attained that height. The first being her immediate predecessor Justice Georgina Theodora Wood who retired about two weeks ago after almost 47 years of active public service, the last ten years being the Chief Justice and head of Ghana's judiciary. It is disturbing that after 60 years of independence only a few women are in high positions in Ghana. Justice Sophia Akuffo's nomination by the president and her subsequent vetting and approval by Parliament is therefore a feather in the cup of gender advocates. It is a major boost towards women empowerment. The point must however be made that she was not chosen simply because she is a woman. The fact is she is highly qualified, very competent and capable of doing the job. She has over the years exhibited these qualities as a lawyer which propelled her to the notice of the 1st President of the 4th Republic, Jerry John Rawlings, to appoint her to the Supreme Court some 22 years ago.

The vetting process brought into perspective various matters about the judiciary which Ghanaians have concerns about. These range from the integrity of the judiciary, political and other interferences, delays in justice delivery, loss of confidence in the justice system and other related issues of mob action, the conduct of lawyers and legal education in Ghana. It is refreshing that she has expressed her desire to address these issues. She must begin by restoring confidence in the judiciary bleeding from the bruises it sustained following that corruption expose by ace investigative journalist Anas Aremeyaw Anas. Even before Anas' expose, it has been a long held notion that justice is for sale to the highest bidder. Whether it is a reality or a myth, it is believed that ordinary citizens cannot win any court case against people of high social standing, rich and those who have connections with politicians and other influential figures. Madam Akuffo must do everything within her power to erase this notion from the minds of Ghanaians.

Justice they say must not only be done but it must be seen to be done. One other issue has to do with delays in the court processes. Often times, lawyers and court staff hide behind the phrase that the wheels of justice grind slowly, to unduly delay cases. Sometimes as a deliberate attempt to frustrate one party to the case. The Chief Justice must initiate immediate reforms in court procedures to remove these unnecessary delays. This is one area that she can bring her ICT expertise to bear. Justice is becoming increasingly expensive and a preserve for the rich.

First, it has to do with filing fees and other court processes and the amount charged by lawyers. The Chief Justice must reconsider these legal fees. If the fees cannot be reviewed downwards, safety net measures must be put in place to carter for the poor. Justice Akuffo must also cleanse the judiciary of perception of political bias. It is believed that people who flout the laws in one way or the other are able to escape, when their parties are in government. This must not continue because it breeds lawlessness and anarchy. Just like Malcom X, the judges must be for the truth, no matter who tells it and they must be for justice no matter who it is for or against.

There should be efforts to de-congest the prisons. This can be enhanced by a re-look at the sentencing policy. The Chief Justice must be a champion of non-custodial sentences. It makes more sense to let people render communal services like sweeping public places, desilting drains and disposing refuse than housing them in prisons and spending money feeding them.

The Chief Justice must deepen transparency in the justice delivery system. There should not be a repeat of what happened the other time when the sitting judge in the trial of suspects involved in the murder of former MP for Abuakwa South, J.B. Dankwa Adu, drove journalists out of her court. If court proceedings cannot be carried live as was the case in the 2012 election petition hearing, the least that we can accept is where the media have an unfettered access to every court process. The judiciary must also do more to protect the fundamental human right of every citizen to free speech. Often times, the law of contempt and scandalising the court is used to gag citizens from expressing their views on issues having to do with the courts. Despite her past record, the Chief Justice can institute reforms which will ensure that contemnors are given non-custodial sentences.

Madam Sophia Akuffo has just three years to retire, it may be a short period but long enough for her to make a great impact and leave a lasting legacy.

BY BUBU KLINOGO, A JOURNALIST.

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