The Bond of 1844 signed by Commander H. Hill with the local Fanti Chiefs of Cape Coast was a document that acknowledged the power and jurisdiction which had been de facto exercised in the territories adjacent to the British forts and settlements. It was a declaration to the effect that ‘the first objects of law are the protection of individuals and property’. And that ‘human sacrifices, and other barbarous customs, such as panyarring, are abominations, and contrary to law’. It was further agreed that serious crimes should be tried by the Queen’s Judicial Officers sitting with the chiefs, thereby molding the customs of the country into the general principles of British law.
In 1853, the Supreme Court Ordinance was passed, establishing the Supreme Court of Her Majesty’s forts and settlements on the Gold Coast, which had in 1850 been severed from Sierra Leone and given its own governor in the person of Governor Hill. However, in 1866, by a commission dated 19th February, the Charter of 1850 was revoked and the Gold Coast together with Sierra Leone, Lagos and Gambia were created under “the Governor of four West African Settlements”. The existing Gold Coast ordinances were preserved and so was the Legislative Council. The Executive Council ceased to exist and the Supreme Court was also abolished in 1866 and replaced by” the Court of Civil and Criminal Justice presided over by a Chief Magistrate”.
The Order in Council of 1856 remained unrevoked and the Judicial Assessor and the other Magistrates continued to exercise their jurisdiction outside the forts. The Supreme Court Ordinance of 1876 re-established the Supreme Court after its abolition in 1866. It constituted it into the Supreme Court of Judicature for the Gold Coast colony. The Court was constituted of the Chief Justice and not more than four Puisne Judges, and provided that the full court (consisting of the Chief Justice and one or two Puisne Judges) should be a Court of Appeal with sittings in Accra and Lagos.
The Ordinance further provided District Commissioners of the Supreme Court exercising the powers of a Judge of the Supreme Court within their own districts. The Ordinance abolished the post of a Judicial Assessor. Provisions of appeals from the Supreme Court to the Privy Council were contained in an Order in Council made in 1877.
The Native Courts (Colony) Ordinance
1944 (Number 22) marked a revolutionary change. This Ordinance which followed the Blackmail Committee of 1943 gave the Governor power to set up entirely new courts and to appoint their members instead of the old Customary Law Tribunals. A new Land Court was created to hear appeals from native court decisions in land cases.
On 5th May 1954, the major part of the Gold Coast (Constitution) Order in Council, 1954 (S.I.1954 Number 551) came into operation. A Judicial Service Commission was set up consisting of the Chief Justice and two other Judges, the Attorney General and the Chairman of the Public Services Commission.
The Ghana Independence Act, 1957
This received Royal Assent on 7th February, 1957. The long title described it as ‘An act to make provision for and in connection with, the attainment by the Gold Coast of full responsible status within the British Commonwealth of Nations’. The effect of the opening words was to place all the four territories on an equal footing as the dominions of Her Majesty in her capacity as Queen of Ghana. On 8th March, 1957, Ghana became a member of the United Nations Organisation.