KEYNOTE ADDRESS BY HER LADYSHIP JUSTICE GERTRUDE SACKEY TORKORNOO, HONORABLE CHIEF JUSTICE OF THE REPUBLIC OF GHANA AT ANNUAL GENERAL MEETING OF THE INTERNATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF WOMEN JUDGES- GHANA CHAPTER (IAWJ) ON TUESDAY, 26TH SEPTEMBER, 2023, LABADI BEACH HOTEL
THEME: “"THE FEMALE JUDGE AS A LEGAL LUMINARY WITH A BALANCED LIFE".
Your Ladyship Justice Rita Agyeman Budu, President of the International Association of Women Judges- Ghana Chapter, and all executives of our esteemed Association,
Your Ladyships, Honors and Worships,
Members of the IAWJ- Ghana Chapter
Distinguished Invited Guests
Ladies and Gentlemen
Thank you very much for the invitation to deliver this address at the …….Annual General Meeting of the International Association of Women Judges. It is indeed a great honor not only to lead the Judiciary, but through this position, be given the privilege of sharing thoughts on momentous occasions such as this.
It seems like only a few months ago when we gathered here in our stylish gold and brown outfits to consider many issues that affect the welfare of lady Judges at the 2022 AGM. At that conference, as is customary, we were addressed by the Chief Justice, then His Lordship Justice Kwasi Anin Yeboah. In June 2023, he passed the baton of leadership to me as the 15th Chief Justice of the Republic.
Let me therefore begin this address by expressing my appreciation to all for supporting His Lordship Justice Anin Yeboah through the gruelling schedule of overseeing the construction and commissioning of some fifty courts in a short space of time, especially under Covid 19 conditions - while still discharging all of the heavy constitutional duties that come with the mandate of Chief Justice pursuant to Chapter 11 of the Constitution 1992. We are grateful to His Lordship for his dedicated service, and wish him a very well- deserved rest in retirement. I must also acknowledge the beautiful legacies of Her Ladyship Justice Georgina Theodora Wood, the first lady Chief Justice of the Republic of Ghana who came to the office in 2007, after more than one hundred years after Chief Justice David Patrick Chalmers as Chief Justice of the Gold Coast from 1876 to 1878. She broke the glass ceiling over women Judges, and she must be constantly saluted for this legacy. We also acknowledge Chief Justice Sophia Akuffo, who followed directly after Chief Justice Wood, removing any shards of glass that may have lain around after Chief Justice Wood walked into the high office. With me following closely after them, we as women Judges, must now be settled with the truth, that we stand toe to toe with our brothers, and can remove any barrier, perceived or real, against women in leadership in Ghana’s judiciary.
I have extremely fond memories of our AGM last year. Following the opening, I joined a virtual club of lady Judges committed to being better versions of themselves under the club name The New You. In the ensuing months, I lost several kilograms of weight, learnt how to eat interesting combinations of food that were designed to keep my systems detoxified and healthy, do aerobics by following instructors I saw only on screens, and eventually put back most of the lost weight because I stopped midstream. I intend to rejoin the club and start the cycle all over again, because it was an extremely impactful addition to my life.
I sincerely thank the organisers of our AGM for knowing just how to bring issues that are important to the emotional, intellectual and physiological well-being of Judges to our notice, in the few short hours we have for this conference. Through these goading topics, you motivate, encourage, and energize exchange of ideas and experiences that help with the improvement of the quality of our lives. I am confident that the lineup of discussions in this conference will provide new opportunities to inspire us, and enable us to return to our roles with new energy, new passion and new ideas to better discharge the critical constitutional mandate that the Judiciary has been given under the Constitution.
Our theme for this year throws the spot light on how as female Judges, we can achieve balance in all areas of life while functioning as legal luminaries.
I believe that in essence, a legal luminary is someone who possesses an exceptional understanding and mastery of the law. A legal luminary is an individual who not only comprehends the architecture of law, in whatsoever context, but is also adept at applying any area of law diligently and effectively to the specific facts placed before her in any case. To my mind, every Judge must inherently possess or aspire to this quality of legal luminance. A Judge's work, at whichever level of court, and on any given day, is far from simple. Each case comes with its specific and unique set of facts. Each case compels the general contemplation of the rules of procedure of the relevant court, as they apply specifically to the circumstances of the case, and the processes filed for determination. While scanning for procedural correctness, the Judge must not only be satisfied of sufficiency of relevant evidence in order to provoke the reliefs sought, but the presence of all the distinct principles that make up the area of law that the facts fall in.
A Judge’s ability to harmonize distinct strands of law, prioritize their applicability, and deliver cogent decisions with appropriate orders requires depth of understanding and illumination not only in the inter-sectionality of the different areas of law that come to play in a case, but the nuances of each applicable area of law.
But you will agree with me that the expectation placed upon a woman as a legal luminary is no different from that of her male counterpart. The donning of the robe and taking of the gavel obscures the operation of gender and invites only skill, intellectual strength and emotional resilience in the rambunctious arena of conflict – nothing less. We cannot be defined by our gender when it comes to the quality of luminance we bring to work, if we do not want to be restricted by any debilitating notions around gender in the quality of rewards we obtain from work.
While this is so, we cannot also pretend to be oblivious of the physiological and cultural demands of our gender. How do we manage a full case list when pregnant or undergoing some health challenge such as dealing with a bleeding fibroid? How do we stand toe to toe with our male counterparts in exercising strong, independent, competent, diligent management of our court rooms that resonate with the integrity and brilliance that our role demands? These are important questions and so our theme for consideration is important.
My ladies, my view is that if we appreciate that first and foremost, regardless of whether a Judge is male or female, the Judge is a leader of not just the courtroom that he or she functions from, but the registry from which her work emanates, the foundation for winning at work as a Judge would have been laid. This is a perspective that cannot be negotiated out, whether we want to or not. The Judge is the face, final word and leader of the relay of court officials and external service providers that are involved in the processing of court work, pre and post-trial, and this has nothing to do with gender identity. Thus if we take the bull by the horns from the first day of our career, and focus on developing this primary identity of leadership when it comes to the work space, rather than the fundamental identity of femaleness that we bear as human beings, the intellectual, emotional and social burdens of our constitutional role will be easier managed. What and how do I mean?
A focus on the tenets of personal leadership should draw us into paying close attention to our case lists, and the state of records before us before allowing them to be called in court. Going through a day’s work should not be a passive routine of calling cases, adjourning them when we find that they are not ripe for hearing, or allowing lengthy submissions that sap energy and leave us drained, only to retire to write lengthy decisions on why an application should be dismissed.
When we pay close attention to court records immediately they are assigned to us because we accept leadership and ownership of our work space, we will be able to lead clerks, secretaries and registries in ensuring that the processes on dockets pass the litmus tests of readiness for consideration, before they are called in court, or even placed on a cause list. The preparation of a cause list should not remain the preserve of Registrars, but a process closely guided by a Judge who has scanned the dockets and knows that they are fit to require the summoning of lawyers and citizens to court. Coming to court exerts a heavy toll in time and money, and a judge’s leadership role must be exercised to make it a productive exercise.
When we accept the leadership component of a Judge’s role, we will guide court staff into greater capacities that enable them to appreciate the role of legal secretaries and legal clerks that they function in. Because by the simple reason of working in the court system, they also enter into the second layer specialization of being para-legal, whether they are conscious of it or not.
Personal leadership will help us to settle an environment of greater competence, diligence and integrity among the staff working with us, so that our work is made easier, and we are not mocked by a frustrated public. Personal leadership skills will illuminate the necessity of healthy relationships in the working environment of the courts. Clearly no Judge, or any individual for that matter, can function optimally without the skill of mobilizing, maintaining, and nurturing healthy professional interactions within the working space of the court. The ability to cultivate and sustain meaningful connections by everyone in the relay of justice delivery is an essential component of effective judicial leadership.
As I shared at our AGM last year, the better management of cases and court rooms comes from private strategic skills such as effective communication, personal goal setting, active monitoring of goals set, and time management of the Judge. These are leadership skills, and not legal skills. When we operate with this posture of leadership, we lend ourselves to the reputation of brilliance, because the illumination that our work will expose will reside not just in the final outcome of rulings, but the whole journey that will be marked with the required judicial ethics of independence of thought, propriety of conduct by all within the court system, diligence and competence in case and court room management by all staff, and integrity of the rulings and orders that eventually flow from well thought through work, and that is finally signed off by a Judge who pays attention to what is placed before them for signature.
To maintain equilibrium in the demanding role of a Judge, I believe that striking the delicate balance between accepting responsibility for the professional development of the court environment and personal well-being rests with us. A balanced life will as much involve setting boundaries for staff when it comes to quality of work, as prioritizing self-care at work, such as how we stop for health breaks and meals. As intrinsic leaders, we should engage diverse sets of skills, attitudes, and capacities that will enable us to effectively navigate all aspects of life that foster emotional, mental, financial, and intellectual balance. I like to refer to this holistic approach as "Circled Living," where each letter in "Circle" represents a crucial facet of life in which we deliberate set goals for achieving desired objectives in that arena. C stands for our spiritual lives, and is used for the Christian life, I for our intellectual development, R for all ranges of relationships, C for career development, L for lifestyle choices, and E for our economic and financial goals. The concept of Circled Living encourages us to appreciate that whether we are aware or not, we seamlessly move within a seamless circle of roles on any given day. As such, it is only by deliberately planning for each area of our CIRCLE, that we can ensure that we move towards desired goals, rather than being victims of circumstances.
It is important to also appreciate that avoiding the making of assumptions about personal ability, and seeking help is an integral part of a life excellence. Everyone needs help. So the development of support networks and mentorship should form part of the ‘R’ part of our Circled living. By embracing the principles of Circled Living and being open to growth and support, we can lead a more balanced and fulfilling life while excelling in our judicial career.
My ladies, as the third female Chief Justice of our Republic, what do I bring to the table to increase the quality of the work of Judges and the quality of life? I am not unaware that at whichever level that a Judge functions, you are thrown into an arena first managed by a Registrar and registry staff, and administrative officers. When the Judge enters the court room, you are faced with a rally of different court room officials, who bow to you, and yet determine the actual pace of work. In the course of your work, various external officers over whom you have no control will part manage the relay of proceedings – such as bailiffs, private process servers, police prosecutors, valuers, surveyors, auctioneers, and banks – not forgetting courts with appellate and supervisory jurisdiction over you. And yet when it comes to the blame for delays and failure of completion, it is the Judge who is identified in the whispers and rumors.
And this is so because the court user, litigant and witness is the critical customer of our services. And the court user only hears the authoritative final word of the Judge, whether that word is an adjournment of proceedings that has been caused by a bailiff who failed to prove service, or their own lawyer who failed to file a process on time. This state of affairs must compel us to accept ownership and leadership of each part of the judicial administrative process, and think through how we will apply the authority of the final word to develop structures that assist with ensuring that each working day is utilized optimally, and gives quality of work and life, instead of debilitating rounds of adjournments.
The deep pains of frustrating experiences gathered in my first eighteen years as a litigator in the court room, and the next nineteen years as a trial and appellate Judge, and the serendipities of finding what can work to improve the quality of work and life balance, have led me to resolve to guide my administrative leadership as Chief Justice, with four major strategic interventions in the first years..
The first is in the area of increasing legal learning among all who work in the court system, regardless of their primary specialization. This is to help with a deeper appreciation of the law that court work is guided by, and lessen the burden of hapless mistakes that Judges are subjected to in the daily grind of work. The second is in the area of increasing awareness of judicial ethics not only among those who work in the court system but for every stakeholder in the court system, in order to allow for accountability of the entire relay of persons that work with the Judge, rather than the singular focus on the Judge, who is often held hostage because someone dropped the baton of competence, diligence, integrity, impartiality, propriety, equality and due process. The third intervention is to focus on developing ranges of assets that Judges and staff have to work with – from intellectual assets such as libraries and publications such as court user guides, manuals and administrative and practice directions, to physical assets such as technological devices and better managed court rooms, while not forgetting emotional assets such as health and recreational facilities. The fourth focus will be on filling every gap that affects the legality of court work through failure of due process, by any of the support services that assist with the judicial function. In summary, in my role as administrative leader of the Judiciary and Judicial Service, I will be concentrating on increasing the depth of knowledge in Law and Ethics, and the range and scope of Assets and resources to help with Due Process.
I expect that in the next few weeks, I will invite us all for an in depth review of this framework of vision. The purpose is to provide a rallying point to seek your support for the leadership functions I am to discharge, and for all of us to better deliver the constitutional mandate of administering justice, as directed by article 125 of the 1992 Constitution. I am trusting that as we all rally around these points of delivery, we will find that each strategic intervention sheds stronger light on how work in the courts is to be conducted to bring in greater efficiency, effectiveness and finality of processes. It will throw light on the dark shadows of corruption that Judges are tagged with, despite being just one type of fish in this sea of officialdom involved in administration of justice, and enable all persons of integrity to help weed out as much of the disease of corruption as we can. It will help give us better quality of life with easier access to learning and working tools. And finally, it will help make our work easier, as we function on the same page with the range of experts provided to assist Judges in the administration of justice.
Madam President, allow me to please encourage every Judge to reach out to me with ideas and recommendations on how we can support each other to provide better quality of justice, while increasing our own quality of life through every available strategic intervention that leads to achievement of goals set. I need a lot of inputs especially from the District and Circuit Courts, because my personal experience in these courts is much less than in the other courts. I encourage Judges to write down their ideas and recommendations, and drop them in my secretariat. I will definitely see them, read them, and acknowledge the authors in any work I incorporate them in. The framework of vision I have currently captured will need a great number of hands from all over the country to help achieve same, and I invite all to help in continuous shaping of the vision and goals to achieve same. As we used to sing some decades ago, ‘we are all involved in building our mother land’.
Thank you very much for all your dedication and your tireless commitment to justice. I am personally proud of our lady Judges, and happy that our numbers are growing higher with each intake of Judges. I look forward to more and more ladies joining the Judiciary and reaching the higher echelons of the court system. Together, let us shape a world where justice prevails and in which our lives in and outside the courtroom flourish in harmony. God bless you and have a blessed 2023 -2024 legal year.