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Over the past few weeks, social media has been awash with discussions around legal issues. This can largely be attributed to the ongoing election petition in the suit intituled John Dramani Mahama v. Electoral Commission & Nana Addo, numbered writ no J1/15/2021. I, like most Ghanaians, are not lawyers and so we might not have a proper understanding of how the law operates. The commentaries run on social media will largely not be premised on law. Some judgements by the court might come across as  incomprehensible to a layman like me but might have a strong grounding in law. In fact, I have listened to lawyers give different interpretations to court proceedings with some casting doubts on some judgement of the court. 

Last week, I read a letter titled “RE: INCENDIARY, HATEFUL AND OFFENSIVE STATEMENTS AGAINST MEMBERS OF THE JUDICIARY”, written for and on behalf of the Judicial Service of Ghana (JSG) by their solicitor, Lawyer Thaddeus Sory. The strong-worded letter laced with intermittent threats came as a surprise to me. While I do not begrudge the Judicial Service of Ghana for using a constitutional laid down procedure to get their grievances heard, I think they chose the wrong option out of the many available to them. I am not here to debate whether or not they have the right to write such a letter to media houses. 

I opine that in the past few days, a lot of people have made very horrible comments regarding the bench and its operations. In the past, I have heard persons of repute suggest that Justices of the Supreme Court give rulings based on who appointed them to the bench. This allegation did not come from the media. It came from a respected Law lecturer and practitioner who is currently the Dean of the Law faculty of the University of Ghana, Professor Raymond Akongburo Atuguba. The media only reported it. Of course, the Chief Justice then, Justice Sophia Akuffo, did not take this allegation lightly. The media reported that, too. The only person cited for contempt during the 2020 Election Petition is not a media practitioner. He is a renowned lawyer and former Deputy Attorney General and lawmaker, Lawyer Dominic Akuritinga Ayine. So like Lawyer Henry Kwesi Prempeh, I do not think the media is the biggest problem here. The law fraternity itself needs some cleansing. And how it approaches this issue will go a long way to correct public perception about the fraternity or worsen it.

In 2015, renowned undercover journalist, Anas Aremeyaw Anas in his documentary titled, “Ghana In the Eyes of God” revealed how some judges sold justice. The documentary shook the judiciary and led to some reforms. That documentary battered the image and integrity of the judiciary. It confirmed a longheld suspicion by some sections of the public that justice was for sale. It also provided a platform for the judiciary to be cleansed.

One of the impacts of that documentary is that it has taken off the veil of ignorance that protected the judiciary. It also gave society an iota of doubt regarding the rulings of the court. Ever since, the general public has been tempted to take some of the rulings of the court with a pinch of salt. Can we blame the ordinary Ghanaian for holding on to these notions? NO! Should the judiciary do something to redeem its image? YES! How?

I am a lover of Public Relations (PR) and a firm believer that the judiciary needs PR now more than it needs law. Instead of writing letters to media houses that have not published any contemptuous story, the Judicial Services of Ghana should invest its time and energy in employing the services of a Public Relations consultant to help them in gaining their dwindling public image. I am not a lawyer but I know the aim of every lawyer is to win a case. Lawyers will go to any extent to win a case even if it destroys personal relationships. On the order hand, Public Relations seeks to win the public.

I am not suggesting the rulings of the court should be based on public sentiments only.  I am merely suggesting that the Judicial Services of Ghana should not have worsened their public image by writing to media houses. The letter came across as imposing and seeming to curtail media freedom. If the aim of the letter was to remind the media of its role in sticking to factual reportage, then the JSG could have rather held a consultative meeting with the Ghana Journalist Association(GJA) and tabled some of its concerns to the GJA, held seminars for News Editors and organised and media tour to engage the public on how the judiciary operates. Doing so would mean the JSG have in mind the impact of the Anas document on the image on the judicial and any attempt to coax the public will be met with stiff opposition. On the other hand, the JSG can run a series of campaign aimed at cooling the raging fire in the public space regarding the judiciary.

Further, the posture of the solicitor for the JSG on Citi TV’s Point of View yesterday was worrying, to say the least. While I admit that the operations of the media are not above the law, it is also important to note that how you communicate your point can discredit your otherwise good case. He came across as unnecessarily argumentative and sought to question the integrity of the host. For someone who was speaking for an institution that has come under serious public scrutiny, I felt he missed a good opportunity to make a good case for his client. He set this client up for unnecessary public chastisement. I would rather he put aside his law profession and spoke as Public relations person (which he obviously is not). He could have started with why good media reportage was good for the court and use the court’s decision to allow the election petition to be televised as a basis to buttress his point that the court was not against the media. Then he could state that wrong reportage was dangerous because Ghana has a history of Supreme Court Justices who were murdered and that such a scenario must not be repeated. Alas, he turned it into a debate even thanked the show host for debating him, albeit he admitted it was a joke. The show was not a debate but as a lawyer, he thought it was. On the same show, the representative of the Media Foundation for West Africa made his points without sounding argumentative.

The Judicial Services of Ghana must come to a realisation that not all issues must be viewed from the perspective of law but rather from other perspectives too.

The Judicial Services of Ghana must move beyond just the quest of winning cases and win their publics back. To win the publics back, it takes real strategy and time and a PR consultant will be the best suited for that. I know a lot of PR consultants who are lawyers and can do this job well.

The legal fraternity should not be seen as at loggerheads with the general public. They must not be seen as trying to protect the legal fraternity simply because it is a noble profession but because a lawless society is something we cannot have. As such, everyone must be made to see why is it dangerous to run prejudicial or contemptuous comments. That can be achieved without releasing threats. That can be done through PR. Law and PR are not at loggerheads. Make them work together.

The writer,  Abdul-Rahim Naa Ninche

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