11 January 2013

Ghana: NPP Object to Panel

The much-awaited hearing of the election petition challenging the Electoral Commission's (EC's) declaration of President John Mahama winner of the 2012 presidential poll expected to begin yesterday at the Supreme Court turned out to be a fiasco.

The court, presided over by Justice William Atuguba, had to adjourn indefinitely the hearing of a preliminary motion in which the National Democratic Congress (NDC) is seeking to be joined as a party in the election petition. He asked the petitioners to put their house in order.

The adjournment was occasioned by a preliminary objection raised by the New Patriotic Party (NPP) flagbearer for the 2012 General Elections, Nana Akufo-Addo, his vice-presidential candidate, Dr. Mahamudu Bawumia, and Jake Okanta Obetsebi-Lamptey, National Chairman of the party, who are the petitioners against the composition of the 9-member Supreme Court panel assigned to hear the petition and related motions.

Other Supreme Court Justices on the panel were Justices Julius Ansah, Sophia Adinyira, Rose Owusu, Jones Dotse, Anin-Yeboah, Paul Baffoe-Bonnie, Sule Gbadegbe and Vida Akoto-Bamfo.

Even though the objection was initially made in Chambers on the request of Mr Phillip Addison, lead counsel of the petitioners, in the presence of the other legal teams, when the court resumed, it ordered the petitioners to make their objection formal through a motion.

Other lawyers in court were Mr. Tsatsu Tsikata, leading the NDC legal team, Mr. Tony Lithur, leading President Mahama's legal team, and Mr. James Quarshie-Idun, leading the EC's legal team.

The argument as to whether or not the preliminary objection ought to have been raised in open court took centre stage in court with counsel for the petitioner, Mr. Addision seeking to raise the issue in chambers with the panel members. He was supported by Mr. Quarshie-Idun, counsel for the EC.

However, Mr. Tsikata and Mr. Lithur, counsel for the NDC and President Mahama respectively, objected to the issue being raised in chambers.

According to them, the issue to be raised was serious, and had to be done in open court to debar any rumour that may be associated with hearing in chambers.

Mr. Tsikata cited Constitutional Instrument (C.I.) 178 rule 69 C (3), indicating that the hearing of petitions should take place in open court.

Even before the court could grant audience to the petitioners to state their preliminary objection in chambers, the presiding judge, having had notice of the intentions of the petitioners through a radio broadcast, lamented the way and manner issues of law and the judiciary were currently being handled in the country.

According to Justice Atuguba, the stability and health of the country was paramount, as it could be sustained by a truly independent judiciary.

"I will not be part of gambling with the health of the country, and I don't think my colleagues would want to be part too," Justice Atuguba fumed.

He saw the country as a solid state, but emphasised clearly that the country was breaking down, following what he called the "chopping down of principles", which, he noted, was not good for the country.

He further noted that the Supreme Court had no right to hear issues in chambers, except the issue was supremely confidential.

The NDC has filed a motion before the Supreme Court to join the petition brought against President John Mahama and the EC, explaining that the former was elected on its ticket, and it was prudent for the party to seek its interest in the proceedings of the case, since the decision of the court would affect it.

However, the presidential candidate of the NPP in the December 2012 general elections, Nana Akufo-Addo, has opposed the request of the NDC, seeking to be joined the petition challenging the results of the polls.

According to the petitioners, the move by the NDC was a calculated act to delay the action challenging the 2012 presidential polls, which saw President John Dramani Mahama emerge winner with 50.7 per cent.

In an application filed on Saturday, January 5, 2013, opposing the NDC's request, Nana Akufo-Addo noted that the action of the NDC defeated the import of the new Supreme Court rule, which aims at securing an expeditious trial in a petition challenging the results of a presidential election.

The Supreme Court rule states that hearing of a petition against a presidential election shall be done on a daily basis, including public holidays.

Rule 69 C (5) of the Supreme Court (Amendment) Rules, 2012 (CI 74) provides in part as follows: "The Court shall sit from day to day, including public holidays", when hearing a presidential election petition.

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