KEYNOTE ADDRESS BY THE HONOURABLE LADY CHIEF JUSTICE OF THE REPUBLIC OF GHANA, JUSTICE GERTRUDE SACKEY TORKORNOO, AT THE OPENING OF THE 2023/2024 ANNUAL CONFERENCE OF THE GHANA BAR ASSOCIATION ON MONDAY 11TH SEPTEMBER, 2023 AT UNIVERSITY OF CAPE COAST

 

Conference Theme: “Ensuring High Standards and Integrity in Public Life; The Role of the Legal Profession’’. Date:, Venue:

 

 

 

Your Excellency the President, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo

The Hon. Attorney-General and Minister for Justice,

Hon. Regional Minister,

Hon. Justices herein present,

The National President and other Executive Members of the Ghana Bar Association,

Presidents and Executive Members of the various Regional Bar Associations,

Past Presidents of the Ghana Bar Association,

Distinguished Members of the Ghana Bar,

Nana Osabarima Kwesi Atta II, Omanhene of Oguaa Traditional Area

Nananom,

Ladies and Gentlemen;

I am greatly honoured to be with you today. I also thank the leadership of the Ghana Bar Association for the invitation to address this august conference as well as the warm welcome and the consistent support and cooperation I have received since 12th June 2023, when I was conferred with the responsibility and privilege of being the 15th Chief Justice of the Republic.

 I am particularly piqued by the many coincidences of today. Cape Coast is the city I was born in, and the city I received my foundational education in. Today also happens to be my birthday. Clearly my times are aligning to assure me that serving the legal community and the people of this country is a call I must give myself wholeheartedly to. So allow me to commence this morning’s remarks by reiterating my commitment to give my all and to contribute every leadership skill and essence I have to this role. And this commitment places the commencement and completion of new high courts in Cape Coast extremely high. Indeed the highest priority.

 

I am sure I speak for most of us when I say that from whichever side of the table one stands or sits to study, teach, guide or administer law, legal processes and proceedings, it is still a great privilege to be part of the community of lawyers, legislators, law professors and jurists, howsoever designated. 

The foundational and all-encompassing role that law plays in the creation and weaving of any society makes the legal community critical to the strength and fortunes of a nation. The making of law itself is an innate and primeval function of society, because there can be no order without law, and there can be no validity without legality. Thus, even in the times of formation of normative structures and characteristics of societies, each human being, carries part of the baton that establishes what constitutes law, lawful and proper practice that must pertain in society. Legal theorists therefore, in recognizing the inchoate nature of the primary source of law have given us principles such as the unfathomable ground norm, the unquestioned moral code or the often questioned imperial direction of the strongest. Whatever the source, we as legal experts, admit that law forms as human arrangements develop,  and may only be expanded and refined as society evolves into the shapes of the territory.

In this regard, no one person can direct legality without the contribution of other participants of the community. Since law is a collective product of society’s projections of will, then it is our critical duty, on being given recognition as persons learned in law, to ensure that our work produces the much sought after values of justice, fairness and the rule of law that started the journey of law making. Because it is these yearned after values that will allow for the strength and stability that provoked the effort of law making in the first place. Our call is to simply serve the public. We are required to be the guardians of rights, interpreters of the concept of justice, and advocates for justice for both the strong and the weak, without fear or favour, affection or ill will. This is why the theme for this year’s conference is especially heart-warming.

Your Excellency, my view is that this high calling of serving the public with tools for interpreting and applying law, demanding rights and the imposition of obligations must be carried out with a deep culture of respect for the norms, principles, edicts and directions that society has carefully shaped for itself. After all, it is society that fashions law, and it is society that determines the standards of study that are accepted in order to be the determiner or administrator of what society accepts as lawful, valid, and bearers of justice. Whenever we take our eyes off the elements of obligation, opportunity and privilege inherent in the duties conferred on us, and focus on the reward that they bring for discharging our duties, we miss the secret ingredient of ‘success’, which is the acceptance of the service we give.

Since the subject of ensuring high standards and integrity in public life is so broad, like the ancient text captured in John Godfrey Saxe‘s 19th century poem on the six blind men of India who visited the elephant and recognized parts of the elephant as the whole because of limitations of time and experience in that particular moment, allow me to choose fragments of today’s broad theme that we can jointly connect to in this moment, for my current remarks.  If we recall the poem, the man who touched the elephant’s trunk said that ‘this being is like a thick snake’. The second who touched the ear decided that the elephant was like a fan. The man who touched the leg said that the elephant is a pillar just like a tree trunk. The man who touched the side said that the elephant is a wall. The fifth man who felt its tail described the elephant as a rope. And the last, who felt its tusk, said that the elephant was a spear.

Standards

From where I stand and sit, I would like us to dwell on the ethical values of Independence of mind, Diligence, and Integrity from the broad subject in our discussions this morning.

We are all aware that clear and high walls of ethical standards for how we conduct ourselves and deliver our work have been set for us by the 1992 Constitution, the Legal Profession Act 1960 Act 32, Legal Professional Conduct and Etiquette Rules 2020 LI 2423, the Judicial Service Act 2020 Act 1057 inter alia, as well as various Codes of Conduct and international instruments such as the Bangalore Principles of Judicial Conduct 2002 and the Commonwealth’s Latimer House Principles on the Three Branches of Government.

Whether we are functioning in the judiciary, academia, parliament and legislative assemblies, organisations, or corporate institutions, including acting within business enterprises, we are surrounded by regulations. So the discussion of standards does not sit within a subjective framework.

Independence of mind demands personal diligence in order to produce well thought out work that can proudly carry our name, signature and license number. Commitment to ideals of independent research, identity and reputation, will guide us to quality of work that responds to the rigours of any form of corporate review and litigation. Diligence supported by personal integrity, an attachment to propriety of conduct, compliance with law, and avoidance of criminal conduct will no doubt make the arena of dispute resolution a safe space for the public that we serve.. 

A keen appreciation of the necessity of infusing high standards of thought, intellectual depth, and commitment to professionalism will weed out the current high spate of legal processes filed without care of validity of procedure or even attention to the jurisdiction of the court that they are filed in. They will weed out the seeming inordinate and reckless interest in securing orders through perceived procedural short cuts such as applications for judicial review. They will definitely weed out the large numbers of addresses and submissions replete with wrong citations filed in court.  And please allow me to say that they will weed out the horror of a public expecting their counsel to be paid fees, and to be given extra money ostensibly to bribe court officials and judicial officers.

Law has only one function. To build strong, harmonious and stable societies, and my earnest appeal is for the legal community to keep this singular goal before us, despite any other differences in functions and roles we may have.

Despite extensive rules made available for case management, many of our case management practices continue to lead to waste of time and money in court, learning citizens and investors with a deep sense of frustration with the efficacy of law. Inordinate periods of time spent on interlocutory applications and interminable adjournments owing to inefficiency in time and case management in the life cycle of cases have fed into prevailing perceptions of corruption, which in turn affect confidence in the justice systems of our country.

 The broader implications of this state of affairs, especially in land litigation, debt recovery and human rights actions can drive up interest rates and deter investors from our country. It is important to remember that for every case delayed, for every murky piece of legal landscape created, many potential investors are driven away from our country.  

I am therefore glad to report that strong steps are being taken to assist Registrars extensively review their processes from commencement to executions, and for gaps in the integrity of their administrative duties to be filled with clear directions. The objective is to ensure that case and time management is done effectively for both citizens and judges.

I cannot close this address without a clear reference to technology. While we must be comfortable with technology and we are engaging technology from e-filing to execution, technological processes, just like manual processes, need to be watched carefully to ensure security, privacy, credibility and verifiability. It is in this vein that I plead with all of us to move in tandem in the engagement of technology. Where e-justice has not been installed in a court, or e-filing or e-service or e-hearing is not being done supported by administrative structures and regulation, it is inappropriate for counsel to scan processes that are to be filed accompanied by mobile money for Registrars and court staff to cover court fees and printing costs, and to request the said court staff to file or serve the said processes. These practices tamper with the authentication and validation processes needed to support the integrity of court processes. Please remember that we have very few Registrars who are lawyers. They therefore do not know the implications of time on legality. Embracing technology can help us streamline our work, improve efficiency, and better serve our clients, but like all aspects of law practice, anything done must be supported by law, regulation and accepted practice..

I recently encountered a Yoruba proverb ‘Aso lanki, ki ato ki eniyan’, which means ‘we greet dress before we greet its wearer’.

No matter how privileged we may feel or be as legal experts, this is the only world we will leave to our children and grandchildren, Those who encounter us individually will encounter our society, and communities before and after they meet us. They may decide to leave with their investments and not to bother to further engage us, no matter our perceived expertise and abilities, if they are unable to sustain safe use of the land we help them buy, or find absolute safety in the properties we register for them, or be able to move other cases they get involved in because of the morass of procedural technicalities they may fall into within the court systems. So I pray for your support in all initiatives that I introduce to bring faster and more effective justice to our doorsteps. These initiatives will include:

  1. Deepening the application of Technology and e-Governance systems to build a fully integrated judicial system that links all levels of Court work:
  2. Use of data for planning, monitoring and improvement of the quality of court services
  3. Very broad and sustained capacity building for both the Judiciary and Judicial Service of Ghana.
  4. Consistent publications to support the work of courts

Even as the tools with which we prosecute our duties evolve, what remains unshakeable is that the age-old values of honesty, integrity, dedication to duty and patriotism will always yield excellent results for those who invoke them. I urge every lawyer to see himself (and herself) as a necessary partner in safeguarding the integrity of the justice system. May the Lord preserve and protect the Ghana Bar Association as you continue to stretch into excellence. And on this note, I declare this year’s Ghana Bar Conference duly opened.

Thank you.

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