Justice Sophia Akuffo cited an instance where a Judge sentenced a pregnant woman of child-bearing age to pay a fine of 120 penalty units, and in default 24 months in hard labour. This she said was contrary to the clear provisions of the Criminal and Other Offences (Procedure) Act, 1960 (Act 30) as amended by Act 633. Rather, the said provisions place a duty on the Judge or Magistrate to cause the conduct of a pregnancy test on a woman of child-bearing age who is convicted, and if the test turns out to be positive, grant her a non-custodial or suspended sentence.
She reminded members of the Judiciary of their legal obligation to exhibit integrity, fairness and impartiality in the discharge of their duties.
Justice Sophia Akuffo further called on government to make the financial independence of the Judiciary a reality, and not to subject the third arm of government to the same budgetary constraints as Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDA’s).
The Attorney General and Minister for Justice, Madam Gloria Akuffo reiterated the need for the Judiciary to embrace Information, Communication Technology (ICT) by adopting video conferences and online filing of processes to cut down on cost, whiles bemoaning lengthy trials despite the automation of some courts in the country.
For his part, the President of the Association of Magistrates and Judges Ghana, His Lordship Justice Victor Ofoe was grateful to the Chief Justice and Justice Jones Dotse for the conversion of Career Magistrates to Professional Magistrates.
This change in policy to him, gives the opportunity to Career Magistrates who satisfy the entry requirements to enter the School of Law on study leave and become professional Lawyers/Magistrates. Justice Ofoe entreated all Career Magistrates to take advantage of the new system to professionalize.
Justice Ofoe further questioned the law under which government imposed tax which saw a reduction in the salary of Judges. “It is true that the government has imposed tax which has reduced the take home pay of Judges. That surely is unacceptable not only because we are not too sure under which law this tax was applied but we are of the view that the Constitution, particularly Article 125 (5), does not allow application of any such regime that will vary our salary to our disadvantage”, he said.
There were goodwill messages from the Ghana Bar Association (GBA) and the Judicial Service Staff Association of Ghana (JUSAG). The two-day Annual General Meeting brought together Judges and Magistrates from across the country.