Thursday, 18 August 2011

We Need to Know if Judges Are Corrupt

Lawyers and judges may or may not know that we ordinary mortals live in complete bewilderment of the legal profession. From their ridiculous attire to arcane and incomprehensible language, nothing about lawyers appears straightforward to the layperson. In fact, if truth be told, we suspect that the whole legal setup is designed solely for our confusion and puzzlement. A friend of mine spent one whole evening wondering and worrying whether to address the magistrate he was going to face on a minor driving charge as “Your Honour”, “Your Worship”, or possibly “Your Lordship”. He agonized further about what to say if the magistrate was a woman.

The recent brouhaha over the allegation of judicial corruption appears to be equally confusing and frustrating to us the lay members of society. It is not the allegation per se that is the trouble. In fact, our difficulty has to do with why anyone should be surprised or even offended at the claim. This is something we hear every day at the market, Lorry Park, beer bar, stadium and at home. So what’s new?
It appears that what’s new is that the four people men claiming that there is judicial corruption - Dr Raymond Atuguba, Mr. David Annan, Mr. Abraham Amaliba and Mr. Laary Bimi are lawyers – that is what has upset the General Legal Council and magistrates and judges in the country. As I understand it, magistrates and judges say they will not hear any cases in which the four men appear as counsel.

The first of many questi
ons we must ask is this: why are lawyers and judges so angry at allegations of corruption that have been made thousands of times in private and public? Why now? One understands that these allegations of corruptions gain serious credence coming from lawyers, but even the Chief Justice has more or less said the same thing in the past without attracting the opprobrium of her peers.
The four lawyers have been asked by both the General Legal Council and the Association of Judges and Magistrates to provide evidence or proof of their allegations, which is fair enough; after all the dictum that the one alleging must prove is derived from sound moral reasoning. However, the four lawyers are not the first to make these accusations, or to put it more properly, to express this concern because this is a fine and important distinction to make.
I was told by a cousin some years ago that a magistrate had demanded money through a court registrar in a case in which my relative was involved. I did not doubt my cousin, but I did not also investigate. It was the closest I have ever come to having a direct encounter with purported judicial corruption. However, I have heard hundreds of such allegations – enough to enable me to express concern without a corresponding ability to provide proof or evidence.
I was not in a position to hear the manner and the context in which the four gentlemen made the claims, and it is possible that the circumstances meant that they were referring to specific rather than general incidences of corruption on the bench. Even so, they were adding to general concerns expressed almost universally about judges in this country. It is understandable that judges and magistrates should feel particularly stung by the accusations coming from their own kind.

That is one way of looking at it: that the four men have betrayed their own kind and in doing so could have broken a lawyer’s omerta which is meant to protect a near-sacrosanct profession from the prying eyes and ears of the masses. Another way is to look at the allegations coming from within as an opportunity to get to the bottom of the concern and thus get rid of the bad apples in the barrel from which the stench emanates. It is obvious that magistrates, judges and most of the legal establishment have taken the first option; in doing so they have turned the spotlight on the four lawyers instead of keeping the focus on judicial corruption.

Judges are not the only professional group accused of impropriety in this country; journalists and the police are probably lower in public esteem. In the case of journalists the Ghana Journalists Association accepts that accusations of corruption are not mere fabrications; the union also knows that it would be unfair or even futile to ask every single alleger to provide proof of name, where, when and how the alleged act of misdemeanor took place. Demanding such proof is correct and morally defensible, but in a case in which the GJA believes that such accusations could be true, the union prefers to deal with the issue in a generic manner. I feel that the GJA should go further, and I will explain why and how.
Mr. Haruna Iddrisu, the Minister of Communications put it in plain language in a radio and television discussion the other day. The judiciary, he said, in paraphrase, is composed of human beings and in that case it would be extremely difficult to argue that there is not a single corrupt person on the bench. That should be the beginning point, which alone calls for humility and reflection on the part of those responding in any way, shape or form to these accusations because they cannot assert the contrary to be true.

Unfortunately, and by both extrapolation and common street-level expressions, not one but many judges are BELIEVED to be corrupt. This is unfair because I don’t believe that this is true. Remember that I have had only one and very indirect evidence of judicial corruption coming via a cousin who had reason to believe at that time that all judges were monsters from another planet. However, this has not stopped me from believing, like most people, that the judiciary is corrupt.
If lawyers then say what is commonplace among Ghanaians and get sidelined and ostracised for it, this provides the accusations with legs to run and run. That is not what judges, lawyers, or Ghanaians in general want. What we all want is to know the truth and thereby clean the bench of any people sitting in judgment over us with tainted hands. The way to go about it is not to make victims of those alleging; not in this case.
The magistrates and judges, or the Judicial Service or any of the parties can set up a partial public enquiry to collect evidence on the matter. Indeed, I believe that the same should be done by the GJA so that the profession can rid itself of those who have infiltrated it with the aim of serving their own selfish interests through unprofessional conduct. The journalists union can and should do this if it is serious about establishing a standard to which all professional journalists in the country would adhere.
However much we may decry the impact of journalistic corruption on its victims, those victimized by unprofessional conduct by the bench would fare much worse. Furthermore, the implications of judicial corruption impact directly on our democracy in a way that corruption elsewhere cannot compare. For these and many reasons, I would suggest that a presidential commission should be instituted to establish the true state of our judiciary. Those in the know say that that judicial corruption is not limited to the conduct of judges and magistrates but to the clerical and support staff as well.
This matter is too grave to be allowed to turn on the fate of four lawyers who may be silenced in the courtroom or in the society of their peers, which would in turn stop others from making similar public claims. Stopping the four lawyers from doing their jobs may be part of the legal profession’s mysterious disciplinary processes but it leads us no closer to knowing whether our judges are corrupt or not.
As Judge Mills Lane from the American TV Courtroom show said: “…Society is headed in the right direction or wants to head in the right direction, and judges have an obligation to try to help it head there”.
Can’t put it better.

*This article appeared in the Daily Graphic (P10) of Saturday June 4 2011

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