Read Time: 4 minutes
On the matter of the Judicial Service asking some media houses, and more specifically, GhanaWeb, to pull down stories they describe as “insightful publications,” the Executive Director of the Center for Democratic Development (CDD), Prof Henry Kwasi Prempeh, has said that the judiciary should earn the respect it seems to command through its work.
The Judicial Service, through its lawyers, wrote to GhanaWeb and copied other media houses, serving it a 5-day notice to pull down all such stories.
But, reacting to this on Saturday, February 27, 2021, edition of JoyNews’ Newsfile, Prof. Henry Kwasi Prempeh said that it is bizarre and unprecedented that the judiciary will think that what the media or people write or say about is gagging of their independence.
Rather, he said, for the judiciary to command the respect and confidence it is demanding from the media, then it should analyze how it adjudicates disputes and also the timeliness of those judgments.
He explained that while the judiciary deserves to be upheld in high respect, they should also be accountable to the people through their work, which is a reflection of the independence and protection they have been given by the constitution.
“It’s a bit bizarre, to put it mildly. It’s quite unprecedented and I think it does a whole lot more than caution. This is an extraordinary kind of step and let me step back and say, the Judicial Service, as appropriately called, is a Service – it serves Ghanaians, offering a forum for peaceful adjudication of disputes of all manner; political, social, all kinds of disputes.
“In so doing, it helps us to maintain social order. Of course in Ghana, there are other places we go to resolve disputes, in fact, the judiciary resolves probably only 20% of all the disputes in the country but the judiciary is an important one especially for those who are in the formal sector,” he said.
He explained further that the fact that judges are not elected and the processes involved in removing one are such that it is almost impossible, is what should reassure the Service of the high regard people have of them but they should not appear to want to gag the media or limit how people comment about their work.
“There is a reason we don’t elect judges and there is also a reason we make their removal very difficult. And it’s all to assure them the necessary protection they need to be impartial because one of the ingredients for assuring the citizenry that there is a fair forum for them to go to adjudicate disputes. So, we give them that independence but on the flip side, its also an expectation that they will be accountable; not accountable in the way that politicians are which is that they go back to the people and get voted on again but judges, we can’t vote for them. So, the concept of judicial accountability is all the time a difficult one,” he said.
Prof. Prempeh also indicated that the Live Streaming of the ongoing Election Petition has generated a lot of interests and commentaries from the public, as well as the media and as such, the attempt to command some form of control over what people say or write, is bizarre.
“How do we get judges to become accountable to the people that they serve? The courts are an open institution and just anybody should be able to walk into them to listen to a case, just like we have at the Public Gallery of Parliament, so we all can see how justice is being rendered. The second way usually, is also that, when judges reach decisions, they are expected to make public those decisions and the reasons for them. That is an aspect of judicial accountability and I think the televising of the court proceedings on the petition, does meet this basic test.
“The question becomes, what can people say or write in the course of these proceedings? I have always, as far back as 1997, asked how exactly we hold the judiciary accountable. The basic idea is that I don’t think it is what people write or say, I have to agree, fundamentally, that we maintain confidence and trust in the judiciary as an institution because if we do not, then people will have recourse to extrajudicial means of resolving their disputes, and oftentimes, that means that they may not resolve them peaceably. So, confidence in the judiciary is very important but the question is, who destroys confidence in the judiciary? What will destroy confidence in the judiciary? Is it what people write or say? Or, is it judicial behaviour? Is it what goes on in the courts themselves that will by and large determine the confidence that people have in the judiciary?
“If people go to the courts and justice takes 20 or more years to deliver, if it’s too slow, basically, they may not have confidence in them. If they don’t get a sense that what is going there is fair, or the things are not being done in the right way, they may lose confidence. So, in my view, it is not what people write or people say, so much as what the judges do and what they do includes how they are seen handling cases, and importantly, what justification they give for the decisions they make in a case,” he said.