Print

ADDRESS BY HER LADYSHIP THE CHIEF JUSTICE, JUSTICE SOPHIA A.B. AKUFFO, AT THE 16TH CHIEF JUSTICE’S FORUM, HELD ON MONDAY, NOVEMBER 20, 2017 AT THE GOLDEN TULIP HOTEL, KUMASI

 

Introduction

It is with great pleasure that I warmly welcome you all to this open forum, the sixteenth by the Judiciary, and of course my first. But it is not the first one being held in the Ashanti region.

Particularly, I do welcome the King of Ashanti, His Majesty Otumfuo Osei Tutu II, and I thank his majesty for making time to come and share his thoughts with us. Thank you also Justice Stephen Allan Brobbey, retired Justice of the Supreme Court, who as usual, continues to share thought-provoking experiences and knowledge with those of us still in office.

I would like to acknowledge also with due appreciation the UNDP, who had the foresight through the National Governance Programme and helped us to institute this forum in 2002. The Judiciary and the Judicial Service immensely thank DANIDA, who picked up the concept of the forum midstream and has sustained the forum until now. This session is the 16th in the series.

I look around and I am extremely pleased to see such a diverse representation from our community; respected religious leaders, opinion leaders and the good people of this Region. I am especially delighted that the key actors in the justice sector are present at today’s forum.

To all of you who have taken the time and trouble to attend today’s proceedings, or to listen via electronic media, your presence and support are what makes this event special. You are all warmly welcome.

Your royal majesty, the state of the infrastructure of the Judicial Service has been very graphically presented by the facilitator and the underlying causes of the dire state of most of our premises has also been laid out very clearly in the facilitator’s presentation and therefore in this speech I will not overburden you or overemphasize the situation. What has been presented to us more than speaks for itself.

William Rehnquist a former chief justice of the united states of America once remarked that “reform of the justice system is too important to be left to lawyers and judges” and it is for that reason that over the years as part of our judicial reform programme we have been holding this fora.

These words still ring true today. There cannot be meaningful judicial reforms if it is left only to the lawyers and judges.

To create and build a good justice system the people it serves have to be intimately involved.

Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, the theme for the 2017-2018 Legal Year is, “Quality Judges, Delivering Quality Justice”. This theme has been chosen to enhance the critical standard for Judges in the administration of justice. It is one that elicits thoughts about the qualities and failings of the justice delivery system which the Judicial Service needs to focus upon and deal with.  Both the public and professionals have views on the theme from their personal experiences or based on reactions to shortcomings in the judicial system.  The failings repeatedly cited include slowness, cost, remoteness, complexity, resulting in an apparent lack of transparency, trust and public confidence. 

I am of the firm conviction that whether storm-battered or weather-beaten, it is still a justice system around which a modern justice system can be rebuilt. We have come a great distance towards finding real solutions to the challenges in our judicial system. In the last 15 years, my predecessors – the late Chief Justices Edward Wiredu and George Kingsley Acquah started painstaking spadework and Justice Georgina Theodora Wood, my immediate predecessor, brought on board many innovative ideas. We need the effort of everyone to assure that these efforts spread across the nation. We will not be concentrating only in Accra and the urban centres.

Your Royal Majesty, as head of the judiciary and the Judicial Service, I have been given a veritable imperial of responsibility, organising (both administratively and financially) the judges, the courts, judicial education and judicial discipline (in an era of change, tight money and Information Technology) and, of course, I am expected to sit on important cases as a Judge.

This has inevitably meant that other senior judges, from the Supreme Court downwards, have also been handed substantial managerial and leadership roles to a degree which would have been quite unimaginable twenty years ago. The consequence is that senior judges have jobs with greater pressures and requiring a much greater mix of skills than previously. And this is at a time when the traditional workload on judges at all levels has increased substantially, thanks to the sheer pressure of cases, various reforms to litigation procedures, the reduction in legal aid and numerous other developments that have not really helped.

A judicial career still seems immensely rewarding to the great majority who do the work, but there is no doubt that the heavy workload of a judge coupled with the increasing gap between judicial pay and the rewards of successful private practice means that appointment to the Bench has become significantly less attractive than it once was.

Of course, there have always been first class lawyers who have not wanted to become judges, and not all of them would make first class or even particularly good judges. But the proportion of who now refuse to come to the Bench is increasing, and it could become a real problem if it continues.

Your Majesty, the concern is not only that this trend may undermine one of the two fundamental pillars of our society, the rule of law. It is also because a first class Judiciary underpins the whole financial and professional services and industries which are so vital to the fortunes of this country and my term of office will be committed to having a first class Judiciary and Judicial Service.

Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, that said, merit has to be the ultimate standard for quality judges. The primary duty to the country of any appointment to the Bench is to select the best qualified candidate for the post: to dilute the quality of our Judiciary would be to erect a milestone on the road to perdition. But, of course, merit and diversity are not mutually exclusive: on the contrary.

Our website offers a lot of important information, and there are written cases and summaries available on there where every judgment is accompanied by a clear summary of the facts, issues and decisions, available online and in hard copy. In future we may implement a shorter televised oral summary and a Twitter service that informs any follower of forthcoming judgments, as well as speeches and other events involving the Judiciary.

Furthermore, the effective functioning of the Judiciary is strongly dependent on the quality of judges, staff, human resources.

Judicial policies and administrative measures must draw sufficient attention to the development of human resource policies (recruitment, training and education and the career of judges and staff).  As courts are organisations where information plays a foremost role, it is necessary that policies are developed to promote knowledge sharing between judges and staff.

For an adequate operation of courts of course, in addition to efficient human resources, adequate financial resources are necessary and the previous presentation graphically depicted the rather skewed manner in which the financial resources are distributed to the Judicial Service.

Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, proper tools which make it possible for judges and staff to handle court cases and to make decisions in an expedient, effective and efficient manner are indeed a significant factor in delivering quality justice.

For this reason, the use of ICT in every court in the country will be the basic tool to ensure that there would be effective case management systems, efficient electronic case flow systems and application of IT to its optimum for the convenience of the public.  Hence, priority will be given to issues related to the purchase of tools, the security of court buildings and information i.e. court files that are stored in databases or specific secured places in the buildings.

On my recent visit to courts scattered around the Upper East and Northern Regions, I was quite appalled to see the manner in which exhibits and records are kept.

Another area that is of utmost importance to me concerns job and operational processes. These are all the activities ranging from preparation and filing of cases to final decision making by a judge and the execution process. Quality can be influenced by taking specific measures at national, regional and district levels. For example, by introducing an objective policy for the allocation of cases between courts and/or judges, improving the efficiency of court hearings and an effective registry management of cases and policies to enhance legal certainty or the involvement of the citizens in the decision-making process such as the enhancement of alternative dispute resolution.

Quality management models, like Balanced Scorecard, stress on the importance of client-oriented perspectives.  Of course, in many regards, there is a difference between models for public institutions and private companies.  However, a high level of quality is connected with satisfied "court users" and a management perspective where the needs and wishes of clients are sufficiently taken into account, and that is the fact that a certain part of the work of courts which is addressed to "un-voluntary users" (even in the criminal field), must be taken into account so that with a client focus, we approach our cases objectively in accordance with the law and also take into account the overall efficiency and efficacy of what we do because in the end that is what will determine the effectiveness of our outcomes.

A high level of access to justice is important for maintaining or improving the quality of the judicial system as a whole.  Measures should therefore continue at the national level to offer litigants alternative solutions to the regular dispute resolution (for instance ADR). There should also be an acceptable degree of public trust in the Judiciary because if there is no public trust, then the mission is on a fast and slippery slope to break down the rule of law. A high quality Judiciary is reflected by a high degree of public trust in the Judiciary.

 

Key Vision Components

My vision for the Judiciary and the Judicial Service is hinged on six main pillars:

This vision prioritizes the deployment of Information Communication Technology “front and centre” of court administration linking all levels of court in real-time. The Ministry of Energy is assisting the Service in its endeavour, to power our rural and urban based courts with solar energy which will alleviate our challenges with the National Electricity Grid, as well as our increasing utility bills.

Our e-Justice Project under Phase Two of the Reform Programme has commenced and is expected to be completed within eight months. The project, under the oversight of a Steering and a Technical Working Committee, is being implemented at the Accra Law Court Complex for 46 High Courts. It will be extended to our Regional complexes in due course.

An Electronic Case Management System which is an application from the e-Justice project has the following modules: Filing Clerk’s Module, Processing Clerk’s Module, Bailiff’s Module, Registrar’s Module, Court Clerk’s Module, Judge’s Module, Chief Justice’s Module, Registrar General’s Module and the Database Administrator’s Module to ensure that at all times there is adequate  tracking and oversight of all relevant activities. The second components is:

This requires a continuous improvement of the knowledge and skill base of both judges and staff. We will therefore deepen the programme of continuous judicial education through relevant studies for the Bench and we will strengthen the Judicial Training Institute to run more short-term training programmes for Judges to keep abreast of new developments and sharpen their adjudicatory skills. We will do the same for our staff across the various departments to support our effort to deliver quality justice.

The third component is:

We will therefore exercise prudence and also identify innovative mechanisms for funding our programmes and activities with or without donor funding. And therefore we will also develop transparent means whereby the business  sector of our nation can also through good corporate citizenship make a meaningful contribution to enable us to do what we need to do.

The fourth component is:

To achieve excellence in the administration of justice, we as an institution must continuously improve the quality of our output through investment in the provision of  infrastructure, tools and equipment for our work and in the human resource which I have already mentioned.

 

The next component is:

Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation

These will be strengthened under my administration. They are the pillars that will drive efficiency in our work both for Judges, court staff and the administrative staff. Whatever improvements that will be required to improve the output of Judges both quantitatively and qualitatively will be pursued vigorously. We will also continually review the rules of procedure to establish new standards and to make sure that procedures remain relevant and do not become a drawback to the efficiency of our work so as to keep us at the cutting edge of best practices.

Mission

Your Majesty, my mission therefore is to build a first class judiciary for our dear country espoused on seven key quality factors: Judicial Temperament; Competence; Ethics, Independence; Judicial Skills which I like to call Judgecraft; Health and Character.

 

  1. Judicial Temperament is a character trait that encompasses both the ability to apply the law to the facts and to understand how a judicial decision will affect the human beings appearing before the court.  It is the ability to communicate with counsel and jurors, witnesses and parties calmly and courteously, as well as the willingness to listen to and consider what is said on all sides of a debatable proposition and yet to be in firm control of all affairs within the court.

We will put an emphasis on education and mentoring that will enable judges to exercise forbearance under provocation, to deal with others with sensitivity and without giving offense, and to assimilate data outside the candidate’s experience without bias and without undue difficulty or stress. 

  1. Emphasis on Competence is premised on the fact that our Judges must know and apply legal rules, analyses and procedures to different facts and circumstances, and possess the ability to quickly perceive, comprehend and understand new concepts and ideas.The late Chief Justice George Kingsley Acquah was an enthusiastic and dedicated supporter of judicial education. It was his vision of improving judicial education in Ghana which brought about the transformation of the Institute for Continuing Judicial Education (ICJE) into the Judicial Training Institute.

I have already mentioned this Institute and just this morning I was telling Justice Dennis Adjei that apart from the Lower Courts, the JTI lies closest to my heart and will be part of my keen concentration during my tenure.

My tenure will prioritize judicial education, teaching and publications.  The type and amount of experience necessary will vary depending on the judicial position. Extensive training will be programmed for the bench and staff in courtroom practice, litigation experience and ICT and environmental know-how. 

A judge’s history of continuing judicial education is perhaps the best indicator of whether he/she is motivated to improve his or her knowledge, willing to continue with his or her “education” and be open to new ideas, evolving attitudes, legal developments and change in general.

  1. Ethics is the next pillar.

 There should be no doubt about a judge’s personal or professional ethics. He/she should maintain a standard of conduct above the minimum set in the disciplinary rules and should be aware of and abide by the ethical principles enunciated in the Code as guidance in specific situations. The Judiciary is therefore updating its Charter on Ethics and training programmes will be developed in the areas of Judicial and Legal Ethics and Professionalism.

This programme will enable judges demonstrate personal standards of ethical conduct that stand out among both the general citizenry and other people in the legal and justice sector.

  1. Another important and crucial feature of my mission is to inculcate Courage and Integrity in the Judiciary and to protect the Independence of the Judiciary

Judicial “Courage” is “the willingness to do what the law requires the judge to do even though the course the judge must follow is not popular”. And “Integrity” is not being influenced by the identity, ethnicity, gender, political status, wealth or relationship of the party or the lawyer before the judge.  More basically, it is not doing what the judge knows to be wrong.  This will be a standard quality for all the judges and these qualities underpin judicial independence. 

  1. And then there is Judgecraft which is the ability to express oneself clearly, concisely, and grammatically, whether orally or in writing and above all it includes the ability to listen with patience and with discernment. One of the most important features and influencing factors in the life of a Judge is the above.
  2. Health:  A judge must be in sufficient physical and mental health to perform the duties of office, such that he or she will be able to render vigorous and effective service for the foreseeable future. Therefore stress-induced illnesses, migraine headaches, chronic fatigue syndrome, or poor attentiveness must begin to be areas which warn a judge that things are not going very well. We have already started various programmes for sensitizing judges to issues of health and indeed at the recently held Judges and Magistrates Conference, Justice Brobbey gave a very comprehensive presentation on the health of a judge whiles on the Bench and more importantly after Bench so that they would enjoy post-Bench life.

In Accra, we already have a clinic on the premises of the court complex as well as the Supreme Court building and we also have a clinic in the Court of Appeal Complex in Kumasi. We plan to extend these facilities at least to all the regional centres to provide on-site health services. We have also had presentations from a team of psychiatrists to help us firstly to identify weaknesses of people who appear before us and then also begin to recognize our red flags in our own lives because of the stress we work under and we will continue with these sensitization programmes throughout the country.

 

  1. Last but not least is Character. Character is the most important overall quality and a key intangible.  The judge should be of the best character.  He or she must have a positive reputation in every professional and residential community.  His or her background must be free of any references to immorality or indiscretions.  He or she should be free of a history of substance abuse or substance dependence, and free of indications of domestic violence, publicly unacceptable conduct and such like. 

Your Majesty, these qualities I have enumerated are practical and considering the various audiences of the justice system - parties, witnesses, victims, judicial practitioners or citizens - do not always have the same expectations vis-à-vis the quality, but these qualities must be evidenced by quality judges.

My colleague judges and staff of the Judicial Service, our task is far less daunting than those who laid the foundation and placed the first timbers of justice in our society. Our task is less daunting yes! But still of critical importance.  And so no matter how strong the foundation, no matter how sturdy the framing, our justice system cannot long survive any loss of confidence which is the foundation of judicial effectiveness and any such loss must not ever happen and certainly must not happen under our watch.

Our challenge, as judges and judicial staff, is to demonstrate that we have the will to make a difference and I am committed to lead the development of initiatives that will help change the system, by setting aside any narrow mindsets when innovation can help the broader public.

There is the need for introspection to enable policy makers, judges and other judicial practitioners to face, at their own level, their responsibilities vis-à-vis the improvement of the quality of services offered by the judicial system.  And I am talking not only about the judicial sector, I am talking about the justice sector, I am talking about the Executive, I am talking about the Legislature. It is my expectation that the group sessions that will follow this opening ceremony will effectively deliberate on the issues of quality that I have enumerated and that they would raise pertinent quality expectations that will help the Judiciary and Judicial Service live up to its billing.

Therefore let us all join together to meet the expectations of the people of Ghana.

I thank you for your attention.

SOPHIA A.B. AKUFFO

We use cookies to improve our website. Cookies used for the essential operation of this site have already been set. For more information visit our Cookie policy. I accept cookies from this site. Agree