Politics of Tuesday, 31 May 2016
The Editor in Chief of the New Crusading Guide newspaper has jumped to the defence of Justice Jones Dotse whose public utterances on the EC, Abu Ramadan case has triggered a new wave of controversy in the country.
Malik Kweku Baako Jnr argues the learned judge of the country’s highest court did not err in commenting publicly on a case which is already a matter of public record.
In support of his argument Malik Baako quoted Rule 3(9a) of the Code of Conduct for Judges and Magistrates in Ghana which states that “a judge is permitted to make public statements in the course of his or her official duties or to explain for public information the procedures of the court, general legal principles, or what may be learned from the public record in a case.”
At the sidelines of a training programme for Judges and Magistrates, Justice Jones Dotse granted an interview to a section of journalists on the controversial ruling the Supreme Court gave on the Electoral Commission versus Abu Ramadan case on the Voters Register.
That ruling in itself was a matter of controversy. The plaintiff argued the EC was ordered by the Supreme Court to, remove from the register, names of persons who registered with the NHI cards but the EC insisted that no such order was made and they will not remove such persons from the register.
In providing information on the ruling, Justice Dotse who was one of the judges who sat on the case told Journalists the ruling was not ambiguous. With the court having already ruled that it was unconstitutional for persons to register with NHI cards, Justice Dotse said the judges were explicit in asking the EC to remove from the register names of persons who registered with the NHI cards but offer them the opportunity to re-register if they show a legal document to prove their citizenship.
His comment has become just as controversial as the original ruling itself. Some lawyers, including Abraham Amaliba and Dr Raymond Atuguba insist, the judge erred in his public comment on the matter.
The senior law lecturer at the University of Ghana School of Law in an interview on Joy FM’s Newsfile programme said Justice Jones Dotse was “allowed to make public statements in specified circumstances and not comments about cases to journalists”.
He also quoted rule 3(9) of the code of conduct for judges which states “Except as otherwise provided in the section, a judge shall abstain from public comment about a pending or impending proceeding in any court, and shall require similar abstention on the part of court personnel.”
When the host of the show Samson Lardy Anyenini drew his attention to rule 3(9a) of the Code of Conduct which allowed judges to make public statements on a matter, Dr Atuguba was quick to rebut, saying, in law there is a difference between public comment and public statement.
“I am neither a lawyer nor an expert/authority in the Interpretation of the Code of Conduct under reference. And I am nowhere near the knowledge and/or academic credentials of somebody like Dr. Raymond Atuguba. However, I guess I am entitled to express an opinion on an issue which might be divergent from his position,” he said in a comment posted on facebook.
He said he is yet to be convinced that the judge broke portions of his code in commenting on the matter but will concede if presented with superior facts and evidence of the breach.
Hinging his argument on 3(9a) Kweku Baako said what Justice Dotse did was to make a public statement on a matter of public record.
“Let’s keep in mind that the judgment Justice Doste explained or clarified is a public record and also that the fact that the Supreme Court had ordered the EC to delete NHIS carders from the current voters register is part of ‘the public record’ in the Abu Ramadan Case(2),” he said.
The code stated in its commentary that “Speaking to a journalist is public comment even where it is agreed that the statements are off the record.”
Kweku Baako asked “if speaking to a journalist “even where it is agreed that the statements are ‘off the record” amounts to public comment, then isn’t it logical to infer that in that context, comments and statement, whether public or ‘off the record’ are deemed to have the same effect? And therefore could be interchangeable?
Besides, Kweku Baaku argued, the interview was not an off the record interview with a journalist. It obviously was an open public statement by a judge.