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Dangerous Chief Justice’s Decision Erodes Public Trust – Kweku Azar

The public’s confidence in the judicial system depends on its transparency and adherence to legal norms. Administrative overreach damages this credibility, leading to a loss of faith in our legal institutions.

The Chief Justice’s (CJ) recent decision to reconstitute a court panel in Dr. Stephen Opuni’s case has drawn criticism from legal experts and civil society groups, who accuse her of overstepping her bounds.

The newly constituted panel, presided over by the Chief Justice, has dismissed Opuni’s appeal, which sought a fresh trial for himself and businessman Seidu Agongo, as previously ordered by a High Court judge.

This ruling overturns the earlier decision which the Court of Appeal later set aside in response to an appeal filed by the Attorney General, Godfred Dame.

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However, according to a statement by a respected Ghanaian Accountant and Lawyer, Prof. Kweku Azar on June 21, 2024, this move undermines the independence and impartiality of the judicial system, erodes public trust, and disrupts the balance of powers.

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“This undermines the independence, integrity, and fairness of the judicial system, erodes public trust, and disrupts the balance of powers,” Azar said.

Read the Statement Below:

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Once a court panel is formed, the cause list is issued, and hearings begin, the Chief Justice (CJ) no longer has administrative authority over the panel’s composition. This authority transfers to the judicial domain of the panel.

Of course, any panel member can recuse himself or herself for personal reasons or might be unavailable due to prior commitments or illness.

This principle is clear and it’s a redline that no CJ must be allowed to cross.

The CJ traversed this sacred principle in the Opuni case by reconstituting the original panel, inserting herself as the President of the new panel that proceeded to issue the unanimous decision that a substitute trial judge who is not satisfied that he or she can adopt the proceedings thus far must nevertheless do so rather than do a de novo trial.

For us at GOGO, this is an administrative overreach that must not be allowed to stand for several reasons.

1. A panel, and for that matter the bench, must remain independent from administrative interference to ensure fairness and impartiality. The CJ’s reconstitution of the panel undermines this independence and erodes public trust in the judicial process.

2. Adhering to established legal procedures is essential for upholding the rule of law. By reconstituting the panel after hearings had begun, the CJ violated procedural norms, setting a dangerous precedent that could lead to arbitrary decision-making.

3. Allowing such an overreach irreparably compromises the integrity of the judicial system. Judges must be able to deliberate and decide cases free from administrative manipulation.

4. The parties involved in a case have the right to a fair trial by a duly constituted bench. Changing the composition of the panel mid-trial can be seen as prejudicial and may affect the outcome of the case.

5. Judicial decisions must be based on consistent and predictable application of the law. Administrative interference disrupts this consistency, potentially leading to erratic legal precedents.

6. The judiciary functions as a check on the other branches of government, including administrative actions. If the CJ’s overreach is allowed to stand, it weakens this critical system of checks and balances.

7. The public’s confidence in the judicial system depends on its transparency and adherence to legal norms. Administrative overreach damages this credibility, leading to a loss of faith in our legal institutions.

8. Legal procedures exist to protect the rights of all parties involved. Bypassing these procedures through administrative actions undermines due process and can lead to unjust outcomes.

9. The Supreme Court justices are not like ministers. Nor is the CJ like the President. The CJ cannot reshuffle associate justices on cases in the same manner as the President reshuffles ministers.

In summary, the CJ’s administrative overreach in reconstituting the panel in the Opuni case is a violation of judicial norms and principles. It undermines the independence, integrity, and fairness of the judicial system, erodes public trust, and disrupts the balance of powers. It is imperative to rectify this overreach to uphold the rule of law and ensure that justice is administered impartially and consistently.

There is nothing more dangerous to this republic than an imperial CJ.

That is why GOGO won’t let the matter rest.

#SALL is the cardinal sin of the 8th Parliament. Da Yie

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