The Quandary of the Judge in the Digital World-Keynote address delivered by Chief Justice of Ghana (29/09/2021)
KEYNOTE ADDRESS BY THE CHIEF JUSTICE OF THE REPUBLIC OF GHANA, HIS LORDSHIP JUSTICE ANIN YEBOAH, DELIVERED AT THE OPENING OF THE 38TH ANNUAL GENERAL MEETING OF THE ASSOCIATION OF MAGISTRATES AND JUDGES OF GHANA
Date: September 29, 2021
Venue: Labadi Beach Hotel, Accra
Theme: “The Quandary of the Judge in the Digital World’.
The President of the Association of Magistrates and Judges of Ghana
The Hon. Attorney-General and Minister for Justice
The National President of the Ghana Bar Association
Members of the Judiciary
Members of the Ghana Bar
Distinguished Invited Guests
Our Friends from the Media
Ladies and Gentlemen
It is a great pleasure and privilege to be here with you all today for the Annual General Meeting of the Association of Magistrates and Judges of Ghana. None of us can be in any doubt about the critical roles this Association, as the umbrella group for our cherished profession, plays in the delivery of justice in our country. Through the Association and at events such as this conference where we all meet, we can pursue the cause of self-improvement and mutual cooperation that will make us all better agents in the delivery of justice in our country.
Today is of even greater significance personally because for the first time ever, I speak to you as the Chief Justice of the Republic of Ghana. From among you, I have been privileged to be called to lead our efforts to bring peace, freedom and justice to all of our fellow citizens. It is a duty that I accept with all humility and with a solemn realization of the weight that responsibility imposes on me. Let me also add that I am also keenly aware of my roots in this organization and of my ties to all gathered here and I can assure you that while I remain Chief Justice, the interests of Judges and Magistrates in Ghana will never be ignored.
It will be recalled that we are only meeting thus for the first time because last year, the Covid-19 pandemic prevented us from assembling so closely together. We can all be thankful that the threat has receded just enough for us to meet, while realising that it is still present enough to necessitate our observation of all the necessary protocols.
We can also be proud of how the Judicial Service of Ghana has addressed this threat. With a mixture of ingenious management of personnel, an adequate supply of sanitary tools and above all, the use of technology, we managed to limit the risk to Staff, Lawyers and the general public who needed to interact with our justice system. All of us here deserve congratulations for cooperating with these measures and ensuring that our measures had the desired effect.
I am glad to see that the Association, in cognisance of the exigencies of this moment, chose to reflect, in this conference, on the “Quandary of the Judge in the Digital World”. Indeed, the digital world will increasingly become the space in which justice is delivered. For us in Ghana, the application of digital tools in the delivery of justice was a course on which we had been, sometime before Covid-19 struck. So, to our credit, we were better prepared than some of our compatriots when the need came for us to adopt innovative ways to keep the wheels of justice in motion. I hope that during this conference, guided by the excellent resource persons that will be leading the relevant deliberations, we can find ways of applying digital tools much more effectively in our work.
The Judicial Service of Ghana, which I am privileged to lead, recognises the critical role it plays in keeping our democracy on course. It also, in line with this, appreciates that our Judges and Magistrates are essential, indeed the sine qua non of justice delivery in our country. This is why we are doing our very best to ensure that Judges and Magistrates around this country are well equipped and catered for, in and out of the courtroom, to ensure that they are able to discharge their duties with the greatest efficiency.
It is important, the Service recognises, for the administration of justice to be conducted in an environment that is safe and conducive. The provision and improvement of physical infrastructure has thus been a focus of the Service for the last few years. In October 2020, in keeping with the Local Governance Act, 2016 (Act 936) Section 12, (3) (h) which enjoins the Metropolitan, Municipal and District Assemblies to ‘ensure ready access to courts in the district for the promotion of justice.’ the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development (MLGRD) commenced the construction of Courthouses and residential facilities for the Judiciary. In total, some 90 Courthouses and 121 residential facilities are being constructed nationwide with funding support from the District Assemblies Common Fund (DACF).
The Judicial Service is keenly following this process to ensure that it is delivered on time and up to the standard that we require. Our vision is for all Courthouses in this country to be safe, convenient and fit for the purpose of justice delivery and we will not rest until we have achieved it.
You will be happy to observe, I am sure, that this project also included residential facilities for Judges and Magistrates. It is not enough, obviously, for Judges and Magistrates to have proper facilities for work and not be as well served, when they close from work and go home. In particular, this project will result in permanent accommodation for Justices of Appeal in the Northern Sector including the Ashanti Region. Of course, this is not to say that those are the only areas with accommodation problems. Let me assure you all, that, the Service will not relent until all our Judges and Magistrates are properly accommodated.
We are grateful to the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development (MLGRD), who appreciated our need and has been working closely with us to revamp judicial infrastructure around the country.
The current nationwide project, which covers the six (6) recently created regions as well, comprises 7 High Courts, 83 Lower Courts, 20 townhouses for Court of Appeal Judges in the Northern Sector at Danyame (in Kumasi), and 101 three-bedroom residential accommodation for Judges/Magistrates. The Kumasi project also consists of a nine-bedroom Guesthouse, Clubhouse, a Swimming Pool, and two (2) Tennis Courts. All projects will be complemented by boreholes, solar installations, and be fully furnished accordingly. Construction is ongoing simultaneously at the selected project sites (though with different start dates, and are at various stages of completion). We expect to take over 19 of the courthouses by 31st October 2021 for inauguration, while the remaining projects will be completed by the end of the 2021/22 Legal Year. In addition, we are also tracking the construction of 10 additional Courts by selected Municipal/ District Assemblies, seven (7) of which are Municipalities/ Districts without Courts.
It is worth emphasising that this nationwide intervention on judicial infrastructure is unprecedented in the history of the Judiciary, and I want to take this opportunity to thank the Government of Ghana for the bold steps it has taken to address the huge infrastructural deficit. We are also working to improve security at court premises.
The procurement process for close circuit television cameras has begun and will soon be ready for implementation. Cameras, once installed, will cover the blind spots at the Law Court Complex for a start, with others installed in selected areas of the Child Friendly Courts spread across the country. We expect implementation of this project, which we are undertaking with the support of the United Nations Children’s Fund, in the case of the Child Friendly Courts, to be fully completed by the end of October this year.
I am also happy to report that we are undertaking a number of measures to improve and secure the welfare of Judges and Magistrates. In the area of health, we will be facilitating periodic medical screenings for all Judges and Magistrates, to detect any possible challenges early enough to address them with greater chance of success. A Judicial Service Clinic in Kumasi was inaugurated in November last year, following its refurbishment and upgrading, to add to the one in Accra. In addition, we are seriously considering the possibility of establishing another clinic in Sekondi to serve members in that part of the country.
We are also continuing with the implementation of the retirement package for Judges and Magistrates that was instituted by my immediate predecessor, Her Ladyship Justice Sophia Akuffo. We can therefore all be certain that at the end of our service, we will receive the prescribed rewards, which include cash amounts and other gifts, depending of course, on the length of service.
You will also be happy to hear, dear colleagues, that our 1st and 2nd Quarter allowances have been released by the Ministry of Finance. The Judicial Service has processed the 1st Quarter to the Controller and Accountant General’s Department for the money to be paid into the Judicial Service’s Account through the Bank of Ghana. Unfortunately, the Book and Robe Allowances are however yet to be released by the Ministry of Finance through the Goods and Services budgetary allocation for the 3rd Quarter but you can be rest assured that we will work tirelessly to ensure that it is released very soon.
Members who occupy the Lower Benches should also be assured that a proposal for an increase in their salaries has been agreed to, by the Judicial Council and submitted to the Presidency, from which we are awaiting what will hopefully be a very positive response. For all of us, I again bear some good news, that, a contract has been awarded for the procurement of vehicles and delivery will commence in the middle of next month.
Our collaboration with and the cooperation we are receiving from the Government of Ghana and various local and international bodies speak to our revered position in the Republic.
It is a recognition that we must bear with humility and solemnity and to be reminded of every day, when we attend to the business of justice. We must be guided by the ethics, regulations and indeed ideals of our calling and never for a moment falter from our purpose, which is to administer justice without fear, favour or fraudulence.
For my part, I pledge to remain a champion of the Service and of the men and women, such as those gathered here, to procure the best conditions and environment necessary for us to do our work.
I thank you again for your attention. May God bless you and may He crown all our efforts with success.