KEYNOTE ADDRESS DELIVERED BY THE HONOURABLE LADY CHIEF JUSTICE OF THE REPUBLIC OF GHANA, JUSTICE GERTRUDE SACKEY TORKORNOO, AT THE 42ND ANNUAL CONFERENCE OF THE ASSOCIATION OF MAGISTRATES AND JUDGES OF GHANA (AMJG) ON WEDNESDAY, 27TH SEPTEMBER, 2023 AT LABADI BEACH HOTEL

 


THEME: “
A FINANCIALLY INDEPENDENT AND ACCOUNTABLE JUDICIARY: THE KEY TO EFFECTIVE JUSTICE DELIVERY”.


My Lord Chair…. 

President of the Association of Magistrates and Judges of Ghana and esteemed executives,

My Lords, Justices of the Supreme Court

My Lords Justices of the Superior Courts of Judicature

The Judicial Secretary

Honourable Attorney General and Minister for Justice

Your Honors and Worships

Director of the Ghana School of Law

The National President of the Ghana Bar Association

Distinguished Invited Guests

Ladies and Gentlemen

Good morning

 

Thank you very much for the organization of this beautiful conference that brings us together, helps us to bond deeper, and to share intellectually and emotionally stimulating times as a professional group. I also thank you for the invitation to address you on the conference theme of the 42nd Annual Conference of the Association of Magistrates and Judges of Ghana. Just three and half months ago, in June 2023, I had the great privilege of taking on the leadership of the Judiciary and Judicial Service of Ghana from Chief Justice Kwasi Anin Yeboah.

I thank everyone who supported His Lordship Anin Yeboah through the grueling 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. Ghana thanks His Lordship for his dedicated service, and wish him a well- deserved rest in retirement.

I must also express my thanks to former Chief Justices Georgina Theodora Wood and Sophia Akufo, trail blazing lady Chief Justices who after more than one hundred years of Lord Chief Justices of the Gold Coast and Ghana, took their place as leaders with no external indication of hesitation about their femaleness. Their firm steps, inspirational leadership and shattering of the glass ceiling has allowed me to stand before you with absolute confidence that as a woman, I am as my brothers before me – able to lead and serve this noble institution and third arm of Government.

From the very first moments of investiture with this high office, I have enjoyed the good will of every stakeholder in justice delivery, and every member of the legal fraternity - from the Attorney General and Minister of Justice and Deputy Ministers of Justice, my brothers and sisters on the Bench, the Bar, national and international Faculties of Law and the Ghana School of Law, Corporate Ghana, Parliament, the Presidency, external partners and donors, and the media. My endless thanks flow to all who have made the transition in leadership an extremely pleasant experience - especially the Judicial Council, the Bar Council, the General Legal Council, and the leadership of the Association of Magistrates and Judges. You extended words and hands of friendship and support from the announcement of my nomination, showed solidarity through vetting, and stood with me on the day of investiture. It is indeed an honor and a privilege to have the exalted duty of being patron to this august Association and I am extremely grateful.

This annual conference serves as a testament of our brotherhood, our joy in each other, and our joint commitment to upholding the constitutional duty entrusted to us to be the administrators of justice in our dear nation. Unfortunately, the ability to gather, like all human events, has sometimes been disrupted by events that are beyond our control. One such event was the Covid 19 pandemic which prevented our gathering just a few years back.  Since May 2023 when the World Health Organization declared the end of Covid 19 as a global health emergency, we have enjoyed the fresh wind of living without the dire threat of the pandemic in every closed space. I believe that we should pause to render a special word of thanks to the Almighty God for being our help through this evil wind that blew across the nations from the end of 2019 till it was declared to be a mere whisper earlier this year. We also thank God for the grace that has enabled us to sail through the 2022-2023 Legal Year into the 2023-2024 Legal Year.  Indeed, ‘the Lord is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endureth to all generations’ (Psalm 100:5, KJV).

The theme of our gathering this morning requires us to return to two vexing questions premised on the ‘independence’ of the Judiciary. Article 127 (1) of the 1992 Constitution reads

Independence of the Judiciary

  1. (1) In the exercise of the judicial power of Ghana, the Judiciary, in both its judicial and administrative functions, including financial administration, is subject only to this Constitution and shall not be subject to the control or direction of any person or authority

 As Isaac’s wife Rebekah is famously recorded to have said in Genesis 25:22 regarding her reportedly elevated spiritual state of carrying two nations in her womb, while finding herself subject to the great discomfort of a difficult and unending pregnancy – ‘if it be so, why am I thus?’

If the financial independence of the Judiciary is conferred and demanded by the 1992 Constitution, why is the Judicial Service of Ghana and the Judiciary subjected to such great constraints in its financial administration? How can we be an independent arm of government when we have no control over our finances? Is the constitutionally guaranteed institutional independence of the Judiciary only a mirage? Can the institutional independence of the Judiciary be asserted when we need clearance to engage staff, clearance to access money generated from court services, clearance to procure any asset to do our work? This is a conundrum that has been discussed as far back as I have experienced general meetings of our venerable Association - since 2004 when I joined the high court bench. This hot potato of a subject was discussed through the leadership years of Chief Justice Acquah, Chief Justice Wood, Chief Justice Akuffo, and Chief Justice Anin Yeboah. And now, in the very dawn of my tenure, when I have hardly had time to put my bag down, you have asked me to address it. I agree with you that it is meet and right that we discuss it.

A few weeks ago, I joined the Annual conference of the Ghana Bar Association as part of the assignments of the office of Chief Justice. His Excellency the President of the Republic, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo Addo addressed the gathering extensively on how his government had increased funding and financial support for institutions set up to combat corruption. As the detailed percentage increases were being set out, my heart was focused on our institution and my ears were keenly peeled out to hear how the percentage increase had been for the Judiciary and Judicial Service, because as the saying goes, ‘your lover is always the tallest in the room’..

My Lord Chair and brothers and sisters, I felt like a very poor cousin Cinderella by the end of the narrative. Because while funding for certain institutions had been increased in hundreds of percentages, the percentage increase for the Judiciary was noted to be a little over 3%. Clearly, the Judiciary as an institution needs to become more assertive regarding this issue of financial independence, and compel a narrative of justification why the Judiciary needs to be much better resourced than it has been, and why the level of financial support for our work ought to increase exponentially not only in quantum, but also in scope.

A few days after my nomination to succeed His Lordship Anin Yeboah, I was met with the heat of a strike by Judicial Service staff. Though I was not yet in the seat of leadership, the fact of the nomination required that I walk through the situation with the Acting Chief Justice and the Judicial Council and experience the stressful circumstances of the financial conundrum that we are discussing in today’s conference. The complaint and demands of our staff unions were absolutely supported by law and the facts of economic conditions. At the end of the negotiations, many compromises and sacrifices had to be made by Judicial Service staff in order for them to just keep serving the people of Ghana, while regrouping to strategize on a more structured model for obtaining the required increases to their emoluments.

Given the fact that the Judicial Service is an institution of critical national security, that experience of the strike, and the need to respond to the extremely legitimate needs of the staff under the care of this arm of government, is another reason to begin strong conversations on the structures of financial releases for the Judiciary and Judicial Service and I give you my commitment that I will give absolutely dedicated attention to the issue of financial independence of the Judiciary.

 

My Lord Chair, there is even more need to take the bull by the horns because it is clear that the financial independence of the Judicial Service and Judiciary is a sine qua non for effective justice delivery. Since I joined the Judiciary in 2004, I have immersed myself in the subject of reforms to the justice delivery mechanisms in order to introduce greater efficiency in justice delivery. The subject of computerization, which is the introduction of the use of computers for the work of courts, and the automation of court work through software and networking of computers have been central to this reform direction for almost two decades. Digitalization, which is the creation of an internet technology based infrastructure was introduced in 2019. But what do we see and have? I requested for data on the state of use of technology in all of our 435 courts, as at August 2022. The result was not pretty.

Courts that are conducting the core business of courts – recording proceedings manually without the help of computerization form – what I call the dinosaur stage of work – form the greater number and percentage of 85%. 71% stated there were no equipment for recording proceedings.

Courts using automation in their work through direct transcription services (or DTS) form a meager 15% - mostly in the High Court.

And courts using digitalization, a state of affairs found only in the Accra Law Court Complex, form a minuscule 12%. Clearly, the working conditions of courts reflect more of the dinosaur environment, than even medium technology based environment. This situation undoubtedly has a profound effect on our ability to deliver our work efficiently and effectively and must be tackled strongly. These and many more reasons form the grounds for our taking the conversation of financial strengthening not only to the Executive, but also to parliament. I trust that I can count on the AMJG to form a strong circle around the Judicial Council and management, as we tackle this subject as a priority agenda. 

My lords, I must move on now to the second leg of the discussion on the independence of the Judiciary provoked by the theme of this conference. It hypothesizes that an accountable judiciary is a key to effective justice delivery. This part of the discussion must take cognizance of the fact that the general populace does not quite understand the inter-sectionality of the laws of procedure and evidence that we must apply, with the other laws regulating their conflicts.

They are also not aware that at whichever level that a Judge functions, the Judge is 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 they are the ones who determine whether you will be able to do some work or not. In the course of our work, several non-Judicial Service staff and external operators over whom we have no control will part manage the relay of justice delivery – such as lawyers, private process servers, police prosecutors, prison officers, state attorneys, valuers, surveyors, auctioneers, and banks – not forgetting courts with appellate and supervisory jurisdiction.

All of these people can stall the smooth administration of justice if there is a loss of diligence and competence by any of them, 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, around the reason for delay and decisions that do not match up to their expectations.

Again, the average citizen does not understand the extremely technical and forensic nature of the law. It is difficult for court users to appreciate that violation of procedural rules, or something as technical as filing a process in the wrong court, filing a process out of time, and even filing the wrong process, such as an originating motion, instead of a writ, can lead to the loss of substantial rights. And yet, we cannot forget that as article 125 (1) of the Constitution points out, ‘justice emanates from the people of Ghana’. It is only administered by the Judiciary. Courts therefore are places where every citizen must be satisfied that they have been heard and their rights have been protected with unwavering dedication.

A close examination of the High Court Civil Procedure Rules reveals that trials are designed to be concluded within a span of six (6) months to one (1) year, while applications should not extend beyond three weeks, if processes are served on time, and responded to within the time provided for pleadings and affidavits. Regrettably, the average case often drags on beyond three (3) years, and hearing of applications drag on for months.

These protracted delays place an immense burden on parties and create undue level of stress for parties, lawyers, and Judges. This is the reason why on 1st August 2023, I directed that the Registrars of the Court of Appeal and Supreme Court should not allocate dates to cases while we review all pending cases to ensure that they are fixed for hearing only when they are properly ready to be heard.

This exercise of ensuring that cases are fixed for hearing on dates that are supported by the Rules of Court will be continued in all courts to protect Judges and court users from disruptive and unproductive adjournments, while compelling lawyers and parties to pay attention to the directions of time in the rules of court. We must all work to improve case management not only by Judges, but also from the Registries and I will be working actively with Registrars on this singular objective.

This is critical because when there is failure of diligence and competence in legal representation and subsequent loss to clients, we find the unfortunate situation of citizenry thinking that such loss was provoked by a compromised judicial environment. This unfortunate situation is made worse when court staff or persons working on the fringes of the justice delivery system ask citizens for money. I believe that there is hardly a Judge in this room who has not heard rumors of parties who claim to have given that Judge money when that rumor is manifestly untrue. I have been subjected to that horror before and know many Judges who have experienced the situation.

How do we clean this environment? How do we engineer trust in our work and turn this tide of mistrust that is very often exploited by those working with us and around us? How do citizens and external investors in the national economy, trust that they can bring conflicts to the courts and not be subjected to exploitation? How do Judges save our backs from breaking from tall case lists that do not move because the long line of people who must do their work before we can arrive at a decision are not working the way they should?

My Lord Chair, the average Judge breaks his or her back to take down records, reads through the day to understand the legal implications and applications of the facts and procedures, and writes through the night to deliver rulings and orders that hold up the peace and stability of this nation. This is how we serve this country tirelessly from the Savannah to the Rivers and lakes, and from villages to towns. This is why we should set out measures that should help turn the tide get the public to understand how they can help us to serve them better and more efficiently.

My Lord Chair, Mr. President and distinguished brothers and sisters, I have decided to allow the actual data from courts to guide my administrative leadership and decisions. I must first of all, thank Judges and Registrars for your cooperation in helping our Monitoring and Evaluation Department, led by the Quality Assurance unit, which is led by a High Court Judge, to obtain data from courts. This is going to be continuous feature of our work and is being done to help strategize on how courts can be better helped to deliver their work more efficiently.

The data reflects many distortions and imbalances. For instance, we have a district court that is recorded to have as many as 1300 cases while another district court has only 36 cases, in the same region. Clearly, the overburdened Judge cannot function efficiently and must be relieved of many of these cases if he is not to be affected emotionally, mentally and physiologically. The Judge who has hardly any work will also not have the records to show work they have done to merit promotion.

I therefore crave the indulgence of Judges to first, share thoughts with me on how we can better deliver justice through our work, and cooperate with me on initiatives introduced with the simple objective of infusing more ease and efficiency into our case load management. 

I expect that in the next few weeks, I will invite us all for an in depth review of a framework of vision I have developed to guide my leadership role. The purpose of the Framework of Vision is to provide a rallying point for getting your support for how we can all better deliver the constitutional mandate of administering justice, as directed by article 125 of the 1992 Constitution, while ensuring a better quality of working life with easier access to learning and working tools for Judges and staff.

In closing, please allow me to address you on one last point regarding the independence of the Judiciary, vis a vis our roles in communities. In the short and few months that I have functioned in this role, I have encountered the need to urge all Judges to engage every diplomatic skill as we navigate the slopes of asserting judicial independence while living in communities. A number of Judges have had to deal with trauma following the effort of asserting judicial independence and we thank God for their safety. We pray and trust that in the coming years, no Judge will meet any such situation. Be that as it may, it is important that we remember the three contexts for judicial training and functioning which are (1) working with law, (2) working with judicial skills such as evaluation, reasoning, decision making and ethical models of communications in our rulings and judgments, and (3) the consideration of social dynamics and contexts within decision making. When confronted with a community grappling with a rising tide of criminal activities or dealing with exceptionally sensitive issues, it becomes imperative that we take cognizance of the social context when considering applications and giving rulings. Our judgments and orders must be formulated in a manner that discourages escalation of social ills. By balancing tenets of law, procedural integrity and a keen awareness of social contexts, we can contribute to the strength, investment climate, and security of the communities we serve.

The Judiciary is the bedrock upon which the pillars of justice, fairness and the rule of law firmly stand. It is the guardian of our Constitution, the protector of fundamental rights and freedoms and the beacon of hope for those who seek redress and resolution. And our nation must begin to appreciate the depth of our service through transparency and the records from the courts. I trust that this conference will afford us opportunities to engage in thoughtful discourse, share best practices and deliberate on the challenges and opportunities that confront us as stewards of justice. God bless every Judge. May the Lord keep you safe as you work, and bless your generations as you serve. Thank you.

 

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