Judicial Corruption in Ghana
By Kwabena Opong
When Anas Aremeyaw Anas publicized his sting operation to expose more than 170 employees of Ghana’s judicial service, including judges of the superior courts, magistrates and paralegals it shocked Ghanaians, but the surprise factor was not really high ironically. Some merely shrugged and said their suspicions have been proven. But the shock arose from the number of judges
involved. The lesson to be learned from this is who gets appointed in Ghana as a judge, the caliber of professionals appointed and what goes into becoming a judge.
Judicial corruption is not unique to Ghana. Every now and then in countries like India, U.S.A. among others, judges are caught in sting operations similar to those by Anas Aremeyaw Anas, the man at the center of events here in Ghana. On December 14, 1984 three judges were sentenced after being caught in a similar sting operation mounted by the FBI and other investigative bodies in the City of Chicago. This did not stop similar such events from happening in such cities as New York, Los Angeles among several others. Indeed it is on record that during the presidency of George W. Bush – 2001-2009 – three federal court judges were indicted for corruption.
When news of Anas Aremeyaw Anas’ exposé hit the airwaves and the newsstands, most Ghanaians were not in the least surprised. A perception of corruption in the judiciary seems to have been in existence already. Anas merely confirmed it. It must be said, however, that those that were caught do not represent the entire service. Anas actually commends some judges who would not even entertain the very idea of bribery.
Most Ghanaians saw for the first time on television how the judicial system works during the Supreme Court hearings of the petition against the 2012 elections filed against the Electoral Commission, the NDC and President John Mahama by NPP’s Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo Addo, but were not impressed with the conduct of the court and the verdict reached by the nine justices led by William Atuguba, JSC. Their perception of corruption in the judiciary was not assuaged in any way further to the volume of evidence and its import.
Prior to Anas, former Executive Secretary to President John Mahama, Dr. John Atuguba, an astute legal brain and intellectual together with some colleagues in the legal community had accused the judicial service of corruption. For lack of evidence that surprised many in the community, they were hauled in front of the Judicial Council and reprimanded. What is different this time is the numbers and the evidence adduced. So far 22 judges of the superior courts and about 150 magistrates and other para-legals of the judicial service have been netted and are facing further investigations by the Judicial Council.
Issues like this when they arise call for serious and meaningful introspection. The judiciary is the life line of democracy. The world’s major economies have been able to sustain their existence and their lifestyles because they have judiciaries they can rely on. They operate on the strong belief that justice emanates from the people and judges are considered as custodians of justice, as is enshrined in the 1992 Constitution of Ghana. The role of judges in the judicial setup therefore is deemed vital to the administration and maintenance of a stable democracy. It is the respect and awe held for the judiciary that informs the appointment of judges. The key qualification for the appointment of judges therefore is integrity. Knowledge of the law is equally important.
The constitution of the Republic of Ghana provides that appointments to the superior courts as a judge are made by the president with the advice of the Judicial Council. Among other things, the constitution is emphatic on integrity. “A person shall not be qualified for appointment as a Justice of the High Court unless he is a person of high moral character and proven integrity and is of at least ten years’ standing as a lawyer.” Same is expected of all the judges at the various levels of the judiciary: high moral character and proven integrity. One corrupt high court judge is enough to corrupt the entire bench of high court judges and that brings into question the qualifications that bring them to the bench in the first place. Are there any benchmarks other than those prescribed by the constitution?
The spate of corruption in the judiciary could partly be blamed on the incessant military coups and interruptions in governance over the years. Surely where constitutions are suspended even as judicial work continues, appointments might be made on bases not conforming to any constitutional demands. We are not sure the indicted judges are among those judges appointed during military regimes and we are not averring that any such judges who were appointed at those times are all corrupt. What is likely is what is being inferred. A couple of decades ago people were incarcerated by judges because the then head of state said so. A judge who succumbs to the pressures of political leaders could easily fall prey to bribery. The comfort and exigencies of military administrators usually trump over the needs of the people. The tendency to appoint friends and cronies who were not particularly qualified was not unusual.
Interviewing some lawyers for this article the writer got the impression that the bench in Ghana is not attractive to lawyers: the remuneration is inadequate, and conditions of service poor, even though they admitted that it is a high honor to be appointed to the bench. For the aforementioned reasons the bench only attracts a few brilliant lawyers and provides the enabling conditions for corruption. A brilliant legal academic claimed that he was candid enough with a former chief justice who approached him for a job on the bench. He told the CJ the money was not good enough for his lifestyle and could make him corrupt.
In countries such as the United States, judges are appointed by the president on the basis of their political philosophies. A liberal president could pack the court with liberal judges and a conservative could do same. It is not unusual for landmark cases to be subjected to political considerations. The case of the election petition on the Florida elections in 2001 filed by Al Gore against George W. Bush is a case in point. But does that enable judges to be corrupt? It is at the same time not unusual for a perceived conservative to make liberal decisions while on the court. Former Chief Justice Warren Burger was appointed by President Nixon to bring up the numbers of conservatives on the bench but he is credited with some of the most liberal decisions ever made to change the socio-political landscape in the United States.
In Ghana too judges appointed by presidents must be those who share similar political credos. They may not necessarily be corrupt but they may be biased to please the appointing authority. And biased decisions are unjust decisions.The scale of justice knows nothing other than fairness. The 2013 election petition hearings bear us out.
The legal arguments about the sting operation mounted by Anas Aremeyaw Anas are neither here nor there. The country is already mired in corruption and the only institution of hope for Ghanaians is the judiciary. Any attempt to sanitize the reputation of any of the erring judges would not reduce the erosion of public confidence in such a person. Indeed it might be an exercise in futility
The Chief Justice’s prompt attention to investigate the allegations indicates her concern for a judiciary worth its name and must be given all the encouragement and assistance she may need.
Those jurists involved in the affair must be bold enough to bear their own crosses. The court of public opinion is not sympathetic toward them.