Is Ghana’s Judicial System in Turmoil?

Ghana’s judicial system has come under scrutiny following a number of unpalatable happenings pertaining to the practice and education of the law and an attempt to gag a renowned law professor in the country.

These developments in the judicial system are: Mass failure of prospective lawyers, petition to Parliament on rules of access to legal education, repulsive reaction from Supreme Court judges exposing the politics of their previous ruling.

MASS FAILURE OF PROSPECTIVE LAWYERS

The Ghanaian media landscape has inundated with reports on the mass failure of law students who sat for the 2017 Bar final exams at the Ghana School of Law.

The General Legal Council (GLC), the body which oversees legal education and profession in the country constituted an Independent Examination Board (IEB) to run the examinations.

The school presented about 500 law students for the 2017-2018 final exams, only 91 students representing 19% passed and are waited to be called to the Ghana Bar to enable them practice as lawyers.

While a huge number of the students totaling 206 are to repeat the entire course. 177 students have been referred in one or two papers. Thus, the percentage of failure stands at 81% in the 2017-2018 exams.

Parents, the students, government, Members of Parliament (MPs) across both political divides, lawyers and the general public did not the mass failure of the prospective lawyers kindly.

Some blamed the mass failure on the lectures of the students while others blamed it on the students, the markers of the law papers, among others.

Others including a Former Minister of Lands and Natural Resources, Alhaji Inusah Fuseini is pushing for an independent probe into circumstances leading to the mass failure.

His call has been supported by the current Minister of Justice and Attorney General, Madam Gloria Akuffo. The investigation process is yet to be set in motion.

But in a recent communiqué, the Secretary of the Students Representative Council (SRC) of Ghana Law School, Abena Asare-Boye questioned the integrity of the results.

She and he colleagues insisted that the results truly did not reflect the performance of the students who sat for the final Bar exams.

In this regard, the SRC urged all the students who failed the exams to reject the results and apply through the SRC for a remarking.

Although the remarking of the exams will attract a fee of Gh¢3,000.00 (US$671.14) the students’ representative body is calling for a drastic reduction of the fee to Gh¢500.00 (US$111,8).

The eight-page communiqué said: “In line with the rules of natural justice that a man cannot be a judge in his own court, the IEB, cannot be in charge of the remarking of the scripts concerned. We cannot trust that the IEB will be candid enough to expose their own flaws”.

“We are therefore calling on the GLC to appoint credible independent and professional examiners to mark all failed scripts again. In a roadmap towards a total rejection of the result which they described as “dispiriting and upsetting,” the students may take legal action against the authorities if they fail to yield to their demand.

Subsequently, the SRC has petitioned the President, Parliament, the Chief Justice and the GLC.

It is important to acknowledge that in all countries professional law exams are private just like Association of Chartered Certified Accountants), Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA), Institute of Chartered Accountants, among others.

All the courses are done in law facilities within universities and those who prefer the professional certification register to write.

PETITIONS TO PARLIAMENT, OTHERS

The mass failure of the students is taking place at the time when the country’s Parliament is feverishly seeking to either legitimatize entrance exams and interview processes instituted by the GLC as part of the LLB admission procedures into the Ghana School of Law or do away with them.

However the GLC insisted that the exams and interviews are to ensure higher standards in legal education in the country.

On the other hand, opponents of the entrance exams and interviews are in emphatic that the mass failure recorded in the Bar exams justifies why the status quo must not be allowed to continue.

Forensic accounting Professor and Lawyer-based in the United States (US), Prof. Stephen Kwaku Asare who has been campaigning this, maintained: “One more proof that the entrance examinations and interviews are not just illegal and unethical but they are also entirely non-diagnostic. That is, the argument that they are designed to select quality graduates must fail on this performance report.

“Further, this is proof that the Bar exam is a poor assessment tool or that the Ghana School of Law is incapable of training LLB graduates or both.

“Think about it —— only 91 out of the 1,200 law graduates in this cohort are being called to the Bar!!!!” Prof Asare stated on his Facebook wall.

Also, a former Director of the Ghana Law School, Dr Kwaku Ansah-Asare, and President of the SRC, Samuel Gyamfi, said the IEB, the exams body had no legal backing and it must be scrapped.

The IEB according to them was formed to address recurring examination leakages after lecturers set questions.

Mr Gyamfi revealed that identities of the examiners who marked the exams were unknown and some were living outside Ghana.

The IEB which he described as an “ad hoc business” but has become a god unto themselves, took nine months to mark some 600 scripts.

In fact, there is an legislative instrument (LI) in Parliament going through a mandatory 21-day period before it will mature into law. If MPs of the House are able to raise two-thirds majority to stand against the LI it will be kicked out.

To this end, just a month to the maturity of the LI, some MPs are collecting signatures to throw it out.

Shaibu Mahama, a member of the Subsidiary Legislation Committee who is also an MP for Daboya-Mankarigu in the Northern Region, was hopeful that the signatures’ collection led by Minority Chief Whip, Muntaka Mohammed Mubarak would raise the required number to stop the LI from being passed.

Mr Mubarak who is working with Effutu Member of Parliament (MP) Alexander Afenyo-Markin to get 183 lawmakers to stop the LI told Joy FM, an Accra-based radio station: “I am super confident we will throw it out because we have succeeded in making sure that it is not partisan”.

In a Parliament of 275 MPs, any opposition to any issue will have to get about 183 MPs, representing two-thirds majority support in order to strike it down.

Amazingly, in Ghana, law education is skewed to favour a privileged few that is why the MPs, students and general public want access to be opened for all.

REACTION OF SUPREME COURT JUDGES TO RESEARCH

A recent and novelty research, conducted by renowned law Professor, Raymond Atuguba, who sought to establish the voting pattern of judges of the Supreme Court on matters did not go well with them.

Presenting the findings at the 2018 GIMPA Law Conference where the Supreme Court judges had gathered, Prof Atuguba explained that he analysed 100 political cases in Ghana and found that the voting patterns of the justices favoured the parties which appointed them.

Prof. Raymond Atuguba

Prof Atuguba said: “It is not a coincidence that this happened…and it will soon be discovered by the general populace and it may be too late then to gain public trust and respect for the court. The time to act is now”.

However, the Supreme Court judges who were at the conference did not allow him to sit down before they took him on.

The first to fire the salvo was the Chief Justice, Sophia Akuffo. She described the research as alien to Ghana.

“It is an American type of research that you have done…that’s fine, but please be careful what you are importing into our environment.

“They [Americans] are used to that, we are not. I don’t think there was a single judge who agreed with what you were saying,” she said.

She was followed by Justice Jones Dotse. He was convinced that the entire research was an affront to the judges.

Justice Dotse stated: “You are entitled to your views,” he tells Prof Atugaba, adding, “I think it is an insult of the highest order.”

Also, an Appeals Court judge, Justice Irene Charity Larbie, added that the research was a direct attack on the integrity of justices of the apex court.

However Prof. Stephen Kwaku Asare has come to the defence of his colleague professor by commending him.

Speaking on Saturday, February 17 on Newsfile on Joy FM, Prof Asare said Prof Atuguba simply engaged in empirical research which establishes a phenomenon that is not entirely surprising.

The perception that judges can make decisions based on their political leanings is widely held, even though they are expected to be neutral, according to him.

“Judges are also human beings and they read and interpret the law through their philosophical lenses. Most often, presidents do appoint the panel of judges based on their judicial philosophies and how well they think it matches their preference of interpreting the law.”

Additionally, a private legal practitioner, Dr. Rainer Akumperigya described the Chief Justice’s criticism of the research findings, as an affront to free speech.
“You may have contrary views on that basis that this is not true or perhaps I didn’t vote this way as your purport that I voted. Our constitution and democracy is premised on free speech and fair comment. If the professor of law faculty cannot do that even against any authority in this country then no one can. What I heard and the exchanges that took place at that forum is an affront to free speech and fair comment. It is that serious,” he told Citi FM, an Accra-based radio station on Saturday17 February 2018.

From the three scenarios highlighted above, legal experts are asking whether the country’s judicial system is in turmoil.

Source: Masahudu Ankiilu Kunateh || African Eye Report

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