Following the pronouncements of the Supreme Court on a matter bothering on contempt of the court, I wrote a piece in total praise and admiration of the apex court of the Republic of Ghana. It wasn’t adulation; I still hold that view until something else changes the face and character of that extolled body. But this morning, I have at least a question.
I heard Mr. Samuel ‘Sammy’ Awuku on the said show, where the statement was made. I have listened to the playback, and it is this exercise of a second listen that has provoked questions I hope to receive answers to.
Without repeating his words, I ask, What can a citizen of the state comment on as far as a pronouncement of a court on a matter is concerned?
Often, in discourses on radio shows, I hear the caution, “Be careful, the matter is before the court” or “Hold it, this might be sub judice” or the like. I understand this to mean that making pronouncements on a matter before a court of competent jurisdiction before the determination of the same, has potential of influencing not just the eventual judgement, but also the reaction of parties involved in the suit. But I ask again, what can or cannot be commented upon? Can we speak generally, but not specifically? Or is it the case that we cannot speak to the matter at all? By the way, if we can speak at all, what would be considered contemptuous? On the other hand, if we cannot speak to the matter, what is this whole theory of the power of the state emanating from the people as in “We the people…” but vested in representatives in the form of Members of Parliaments, Judges and the executing arm of government?
Another question akin to the first: can a citizen comment on the pronouncement of a court as declared by a sitting judge? In this case, the matter has been determined and is public knowledge. Can it be commented upon? What can/should or cannot/should not be said about the judgement? If a comment is considered distasteful by the court, can the commentator be subpoenaed and charged with contempt of court?
The last question I have posed is based on a historical precedent. In the year 2008, Mr. Tsatu Tsikata was convicted of some charge having to do with wilfully causing financial loss to the government of Ghana. He was thus sentenced to a jail term by an Accra Fast Track High Court presided over by Her Ladyship Justice Henrietta Abban. The case I learn is one of the longest heard cases in the modern Ghanaian judicial history spanning six (6) years or so.
Following the pronouncement of Her Ladyship, and subsequent incarceration of Mr. Tsikata, a certain “Free Tsatsu” Now Movement swung into action holding rallies and press conferences everywhere. Commentators were fiery on the airwaves; some going so far as insulting Mrs. Abban, and drawing caricatures of her. I noted with some unease a presidential candidate and eventual winner of the 2008 general elections, the late President John E.A. Mills refer to the judgement as a “travesty of justice”. As far as he (and they) was concerned, that ruling was a charade, not serious and of entertainment value. For a lawyer, and tax-law lecturer of many years standing like him, I was simply confused having been warned of sub judice and contempt of court. And if my memory serves me well, I never heard a case brought against the group or individuals who made very damning pronouncements following the ruling.
It is my understanding, albeit lay, that: the laws of Ghana emanates from all Ghanaians of adult age and sound mind through their representatives in Parliament; is given for interpretation to the men and women of the bench (and bar I suppose?) and left to another group to execute the judgements determined ‑ the arm we call the ‘Executive’.
In all of these, one thread runs through ‑ the people. Therein lies my confusion. If the people make the laws and commit the interpretation and execution of same to fellow citizens with either special training or abilities, why can the same people, even if one, not have a say in the processes or outcome of the stream?
When last I checked, we had judges not potentates. And as one of the nine judges soberly remarked yesterday, their powers are vested in them by the people through the constitution. As for them, they come and go, it is the state as graphically portrayed by the coat of arms, that has sovereignty, perpetuity and absoluteness.
Can we or can we not comment on a matter before a court? Can we or can we not comment on a ruling of a court? What can we or can we not comment on?
My lords and ladies, I need education.