THE Ghana Bar Association (GBA) has challenged the Electoral Commission (EC) and the political parties to avoid acts that will compromise the peace of the nation.
Opening the GBA’s 2008/2009 National Conference in Kumasi yesterday, the acting President of the association, Mr Benson Nutsukpui, said electoral disputes in parts of the continent had resulted in the infamous power-sharing syndrome which Ghana was not ready for.
He, therefore, advised that in the event of any electoral disputes, the bench must be ready to act on them with dispatch.
He was speaking moments after his appointment as the acting president following the sudden resignation of Nii Osah Mills as President of the association.
Members of the association had planned to impeach Nii Mills at the congress but he tendered his resignation about 8.00 p.m. on Sunday.
Sources close to the National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting where Nii Mills announced his resignation, citing personal reasons, said there had been a heated argument between Nii Mills and some of his colleagues over a statement he had made to the effect that the former GNPC boss, Mr Tsatsu Tsikata, did not get a fair trial.
A quick decision was then arrived at for Mr Nutsukpui, who is the Vice-President of the GBA, to act as president of the association for the opening of the conference.
Referring to the resignation of Nii Mills, the acting president said it would in no way break the front of the association.
He said even though there had been improvement in the judiciary, there was still more to do to bring standards to acceptable levels.
He said, for instance, that there was the need to address the deplorable conditions in the courtrooms and also tackle the malfunctioning automated systems.
The three-day conference is on the theme, “The legal profession in a globalised world”.
Opening the conference, the Asantehene, Otumfuo Osei Tutu II, said Ghana was on the threshold of a major election to test its democratic principles, adding that lawyers had a crucial role to play in that.
He listed a number of reasons that had promoted globalisation and said the legal profession in Ghana could be better off if it joined the chorus.
Otumfuo Osei Tutu noted the pressure on the courts to deal with the numerous cases and said that was why the traditional system of adjudication must be encouraged, stressing, “Under customary law and usage, there are a lot of benefits in the adjudicating system.”
The Asantehene advised the judiciary to be fearless and continue to administer justice with all fairness.
The Chief Justice, Mrs Justice Georgina Theodora Wood, stated that developing the legal profession to internationally accepted standards would enhance the international respectability of the profession in Ghana.
“It will also reinforce the competitive advantage of Ghanaian lawyers in terms of their employability and engagement,” she said.
Mrs Justice Wood said it was, therefore, important to see the profession projecting itself in that direction through awareness creation and information sharing.
The Chief Justice pointed out that the “one-man legal practice” which was common in Ghana was outmoded and called for the need for lawyers to adapt to changing trends which had made it possible for networking in the legal profession.
She promised to continue with reforms in the judiciary which she started on assumption of office in 2007.
Mrs Justice Wood announced that a team from the International Relations Section of the US Federal Judicial Centre was in the country to help build the capacity of a core group of judges as trainers in judicial case management, including electronic case management.
She urged the bar to design strategies that would compel lawyers to render pro-bono legal services to poor indigent litigants.
The Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Mr Joe Ghartey, urged members of the bar and the bench to prepare themselves adequately for the oil and gas industry.
He said already five lawyers from the Attorney-General’s Department had been sent abroad for Masters degree programmes in oil and gas.
Mr Ghartey indicated that from the turbulent days of military dictatorship, the courts had now asserted their independence and so it was important for the people to have confidence in them.
Other speakers at the ceremony were the Ashanti Regional Minister, Mr E.A. Owusu-Ansah, himself a member of the GBA, and the Ashanti Regional President of the GBA, Mr Anthony Osei-Poku.
Earlier, a member of the GBA, Mr Kwaku Ansa-Asare, had condemned the remarks made by Nii Mills in the media that suggested that Mr Tsatsu Tsikata had not been given a fair trial.
According to Mr Ansa-Asare, “It is improper for anyone, anybody or authority to comment on judicial proceedings in matters that are presently pending before the court,” adding that Nii Mills’s comments were sub judice.
In a letter Mr Ansa-Asare wrote to Nii Mills, he said Mr Tsikata had been tried at first instance and that Tsikata had appealed against his conviction and sentence and noted that Mr Tsikata’s appeal was still pending.
He also copied members of the Bar Council and Mr T. N. Ward Brew, the President of the Bar Association of Ghana and flag bearer of the Democratic People’s Party (DPP).
“Your action is, in fact, an attempt to pre-empt the Court of Appeal in making a decision,” Mr Ansa-Asare stated, adding that until the Court of Appeal had pronounced on the matter, it was improper for any person to make statements on the matter, more so in the media.” he said.
He reminded Nii Mills that he was “in a special and very enviable position which places a lot of responsibilities on him”.
“You are also a member of the Judicial Council and the General Legal Council. In all these capacities, public pronouncements made must necessarily, therefore, have a significant impact,” he added.
Mr Ansa-Asare stated that Tsikata’s trial and conviction had not only become sensitive but also highly political.
“It was, therefore, unfortunate that you, speaking in your capacity as the National President of the GBA, should have made such a highly volatile pronouncement and thereby involved the association,” he stated.
Mr Ansa-Asare explained that while he did not suggest that judges were infallible and above criticisms, he thought the Appeals Court was established because of the infallibility of judges, who were also human beings.
“Until an appeal has been heard and a final decision given, so that all proceedings in court have come to an end, it is inappropriate to make pronouncements on the merits of the case outside of the courts, as you have done,” he added.
He went on further to state that that was an elementary principle of law, stressing that “as the president of the bar, you should have known better. And for letting the bar down, you should be roundly condemned”.
Mr Ansa-Asare said the bar, as a body, had a reputation which should not be compromised, adding that the dignity of the court should be upheld at all times, irrespective of the status or the station in life of the person involved.
“No one should give the impression that there are two sets of laws, one for lawyers and the other for non-lawyers,” he said.