ANALYSIS: Our judges shouldn’t judge themselves—as angels! Part I By Dr Michael J.K. Bokor

Why do they (the Judges and Magistrates) think that the Judiciary is sacrosanct and insulated against a vice that is pervasive in Ghana….

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The fight against immorality in the country will continue to be difficult for as long as some people in vital sectors continue to play the ostrich. With all the persistent clamour against bribery and corruption as a major factor that hampers good governance, it is unacceptable for some people to attempt whitewashing themselves and seeking to harm those who are bold enough to tell us what we need to factor into the strategies for addressing the problem.
Those whose input can help us determine how to eradicate that vice shouldn’t be discouraged from coming forth nor should anybody intimidate them. But that’s exactly what some are doing.

The Association of Judges and Magistrates is up in arms against four lawyers—Abraham Amaliba, Raymond Atuguba, David Annan, and Larry Bimi—for alleging that there is endemic bribery and corruption in the judiciary. They said so at a recent round table discussion on the Judiciary to herald the “Constitution Week” of the National Commission on Civic Education.

In consequence, they have been blacklisted and other measures lined up to “scapegoat” them. We are told that cases that they are handling will be boycotted by the judges and magistrates. The Supreme Court has already done so. Additionally, they have been referred to the General Legal Council to substantiate their allegations or….. In a show of manliness, Larry Bimi and Amaliba have already called the bluff of these judges and magistrates. I salute them and urge all Ghanaians to support their cause so that the Association of Judges and Magistrates doesn’t constitute itself into a special class of untouchables to harm our democracy!!

These public-spirited lawyers did nothing wrong to be so intimidated. They did not tell us that their allegations were figments of their self-opinionated observations. They quoted from several research findings which claimed that the judiciary was one of the most corrupt institutions in the country. Do the judges and magistrates not know that people have conducted research and drawn such conclusions? What can’t they understand or acknowledge about those conclusions to know that these four spokespeople were just re-echoing an age-old allegation as part of the negative sentiments that people harbour against the Judiciary? This Association of Judges and Magistrates is misbehaving, to say the least.

How unconscionable can these judges and magistrates be? Haven’t they heard of cases of corruption involving some of their own colleagues who were exposed and punished? Why do they think that the Judiciary is sacrosanct and insulated against a vice that is pervasive in Ghana and known to the international community too?

The claims made separately by the four “scapegoats” are neither strange, surprising, nor novel. They are routine and just a continuation of the worn-out and constant negative public perception of the trend of bribery and corruption in the Ghanaian body politic. The claims are consistent with sentiments that have run their full gamut in the public domain all these years. They are nothing new or alarming to warrant the wrong-headed overreaction by the judges and magistrates.

Need we remind these judges and magistrates that over the years, the various Chief Justices themselves have had cause to complain about corruption in the Judiciary and to call for action to stamp it out? Or that the current Chief Justice (Georgina Wood) herself is on record for making public utterances to suggest that the Judiciary was not immune to corruption? Let these judges and magistrates not misconduct themselves; lest, they erode the last vestiges of public sympathy, trust, or goodwill for them.

Already, some of us are unhappy that the Judiciary isn’t doing enough to clean its own stables—a situation that drew the unfortunate warning from Dr. Kwabena Adjei, the National Chairman of the NDC, to the effect that if the Judiciary would not clean its own house, the NDC would do so for them. We all know the extent to which this “There-are-many-ways-to-kill-a-cat” veiled threat from Dr. Adjei was dragged as the matter became heavily politicized to the disadvantage of the NDC.

I remember very well the manner in which the judges and magistrates reacted to Dr. Adjei’s warning. Some voices strongly urged the police to take him on and prosecute him for daring to threaten the Judiciary. Well, the dust might have settled on that matter but not the concerns that prompted Dr. Adjei’s utterance.

The judges seem not to know where they stand in the estimation of the public. If they did, they would not rush to take on their four colleagues who were only contributing ideas to arouse public interest in the fight against corruption in the system. It is no exaggeration to say that the judges and magistrates have taken matters into their own hands and are not endearing themselves to the hearts of those who want to support the fight against corruption or to put pressure on government to provide adequate resources to enhance the work of the Judiciary. Unless the judges/magistrates instill confidence in the public, they will not be supported in their fight for input to assert their independence—which will not be good for our democracy.

They must know that in a situation of the kind that we have in which corruption is pervasive and is cited as a major drawback to our development efforts, any input from anybody that can lead us toward identifying possible solutions should be received with open arms and appreciated, not repudiated or cited as a lame excuse to seek vengeance.

The judges and magistrates can’t persuade me that they are angels not tainted by the corruption that has engulfed and is destroying every aspect of our local and national life. If they were angels, they would influence positively other sectors to ensure that corruption didn’t spread thus far to taint our country’s image. But angels they are not. Thus, any criticism of their work should be accepted in good faith.

There is no justification for our Judiciary to single itself out as incorruptible. Over the years, several happenings have given some of us to know that what Larry Bimi and the others said is true. The judges and magistrates are corrupt to the core and the earlier they admit it and ask for forgiveness, the better chances are that they will help us clean the stables and find ways to provide the resources that they need to perform their duties diligently. The stand to profit from such wake-up calls and must sit up!

As of now, public goodwill toward their cause isn’t forthcoming, and that’s one of the reasons for their not being properly resourced. For the Judiciary to be independent and well-resourced to function without let or hindrance, its members will have to live above reproach. That’s what Larry Bimi and the others are suggesting.
Their claims might have dealt a big moral blow to the judges and magistrates but that’s the true picture for them to see.

If this picture scares them stiff, it is because of the reality that it paints. It is a wake-up call for them and they should rise to the occasion instead of seeking to gag those critics. It will be better for them to use this bitter criticism as a means to an end—which is to recant and take steps to change the negative public impressions about them—than to settle on it as an end in itself.

By referring the matter to the General Legal Council, they seem to be looking for opportunities to punish their colleagues, not for them to substantiate their allegations. Any attempt to punish them will have a far-reaching negative backlash. Their allegation calls for severe introspection and an in-house search for solutions, not vengeance.

Unfortunately, though, the battle line seems to have been drawn already. We can infer from the import of the rhetoric coming from the Association of Judges and Magistrates that vengeance is their primary objective, not the desire for the truth to be established. By rushing to take action—to blacklist these lawyers and to boycott cases being handled by some of them—they have foreclosed the matter.

By so doing, they have given the General Legal Council only one option, which is, to confirm their stance that the four be punished. And the punishment? Disrobe and expel them from the profession? Vengeance won’t work in this case because the four accusers will definitely be supported by the public.

Continued in the next installment…