THE appointment and promotion of judges will be based on their level of integrity, industry and independence and no other consideration, the Chief Justice, Mrs Justice Georgina Wood, has declared.
Mrs Justice Wood was speaking to a group of judges, lawyers, anti-corruption advocates and a cross-section of the public in Accra yesterday.
She noted that integrity was not going to be the only key criterion for work and advancement in the Judicial Service but that her philosophy that “judicial integrity is key to an effective and efficient judicial system” would be brought to bear on the service.
In consonance with that philosophy, Mrs Justice Wood announced that the Judicial Service, in conjunction with other international institutions, would soon begin a training programme for all levels of judicial staff in judicial integrity and ethics.
Speaking at the launch of the findings of a study on the perception of corruption in the judiciary, titled, “Report on Judicial Corruption Monitoring Exercise in Ghana,” she said some lapses in the judicial system had been exploited by some for undeserved outcomes.
The study was conducted by the Ghana Integrity Initiative (GII), the local chapter of Transparency International (TI), and sponsored by the German Technical Co-operation (GTZ),
“A typical example is where the courts are overcrowded and yet a disputant wants a speedy resolution. He or she may pay ‘speed money’ to have the case disposed of expeditiously. On the other hand, where the litigant’s earnest wish is that the case never, never sees the light of day, he or she does just the opposite — “delay money” is paid to get the docket to disappear — and really, which judge who is bogged down with a whole load of cases would not be too eager to grant an adjournment when he or she is told that the file cannot be traced,” she pointed out.
Mrs Justice Wood, however, affirmed her unflinching faith in the judiciary and said the Judicial Council was committed to using all available resources at its disposal to ensure that corruption was reduced to the minimum.
She pledged that she would continue with initiatives that had already been started by her predecessor, the late Mr Justice Acquah, in addition to other measures that were to be instituted to make corruption a high risk venture in the judiciary.
In line with that, Mrs Justice Wood said she had appointed some Court of Appeal judges to oversee work in the various regions of the country.
She said she would ensure that the appointed judges quickly brought to the attention of other judges and staff the report on the judiciary by the GII and ensure its wide dissemination so that pragmatic solutions would be found to minimise the perception of corruption in the judiciary.
An overview of the report, presented by the Executive Secretary of the GII, Mr Vitus Azeem, showed that corruption in the judiciary was real.
He pointed out that the data and information gathered for the report demonstrated convincingly that the issue of corruption was not merely one of perception but reality and that it occurred with frightening regularity within the judiciary.
He said key actors in the judicial process, such as judges, lawyers, litigants and staff of the Judicial Service, were keenly aware of the existence of the problem of corruption and had themselves experienced it one way or another or knew others who had.
Outlining the recommendations in the report, Mr Azeem proposed the establishment of a complaints desk at the Supreme Court as part of the office of the Chief Justice, the active involvement of the Ghana Bar Association (GBA) in regulating the conduct of lawyers, among other things.
The Board Chairman of the GII, Dr Audrey Gadzekpo, who chaired the function, pointed out that the phenomenon of corruption in the country had been and would continue to be a controversial issue.
She said while most Ghanaians believed it existed, they were not sure about the dimensions, particularly with regard to its prevalence in governmental institutions.
“Corruption is difficult to measure. Unlike other crimes, both the giver and the receiver have an interest in keeping quiet,” she pointed out.
Dr Gadzekpo said although one could not claim with any amount of certitude that perceived corruption was real corruption, one could not also easily dismiss perception as the figment of the imagination, as “it may often turn out that the gap between perception and reality is either narrow or non existent”.
She said the GII, in keeping with its core business of monitoring and advocating and fighting corruption in the country, deemed it a duty to establish a possible link between widely held perception and the reality, hence the study to provide empirical evidence of corrupt practices in the judiciary.
She said the judiciary was chosen because it was the most important institution in the fight against corruption, saying the judicial power of the state remained a key resource in the development and enforcement of anti-corruption policies.
Dr Gadzekpo emphasised the fact that to be able to hold other public officials accountable, the judiciary itself had to possess the requisite moral and ethical integrity, as well as the financial, technical and human resource to do so.
“A corrupt judiciary cannot preside over the prosecution of other corrupt public officials,” she said.
The GTZ Programme Manager of the Good Governance Programme, Dr Mechthild Runger, noted that the prevention of corruption was not only a matter of prosecuting individual perpetrators but also involved strengthening institutions and processes.
“Structures must be strong, rules enforced, the code of conduct observed; all these require institutional strengths and systematic monitoring of the works in the judiciary,” she said.
The lead researcher of the study, Mr Dominic Ayine, explained that the study was conducted on a pilot basis in Accra, Tema and Kumasi.