23 January 2013

Ghana: Let's End the Trial By Media, Now!


Yesterday, by a 6-3 majority vote, the Supreme Court permitted the National Democratic Congress (NDC) to join as an interested party in the election petition filed on December 28, 2012, by Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, Dr Muhammadu Bawumia and Mr Jake Obetsebi Lamptey, challenging the Electoral Commission's December 9 declaration of John Dramani Mahama as President-elect.

Nana Akufo-Addo, NPP presidential candidate for the December 7, 2012 presidential election and the two others had listed John Dramani Mahama, the NDC presidential candidate and the Electoral Commission as the only respondents to the petition.

The NDC said since Mahama was its candidate in the election, whose result was being challenged, it ought to have been cited as a respondent, and filed a motion for joinder, but the petitioners objected.

A nine-member panel of the Supreme Court, headed by Justice William Atuguba, listened to the arguments for and against the motion for joinder by the legal teams of the petitioners and the respondents on Wednesday, January 10, and yesterday ruled that the NDC ought to have been joined in the first place.

The Chronicle is happy that the controversy over the motion for joinder has been put to rest by the court, thus paving the way for the substantive petition to be heard, as soon as the statutory period for the NDC to file its response to the petition has lapsed.

However, we would caution that this outcome be put in its proper prospective, and no extrapolations made from it.It is just a battle that has been won and lost, and not the entire war; the NDC who won this skirmish might lose the war eventually, or the losers might lose again. It is all in the laps of God Almighty. Any jubilation or sorrowing, if any should, therefore, be subdued.

The Chronicle will also like to appeal that all issues relating to the election petition should be taken off the airwaves, except dates for hearings and rulings. Radio and TV talk show hosts should restrain themselves from listing it for discussion by their panellists.

As The Chronicle sees it, we are now almost, if not already, in the danger zone where "eyes are red" and the legal teams would not take kindly to what they may consider as prejudicial comments on air and may soon be citing the broadcast media and their discussants for contempt of court. The time honoured principle is that cases before the courts are sub judice or being considered by a judge or court and must therefore not be commented upon until the judge or court had given its decision.

The print media should also be wary of press conferences where the substance of respondents' response to the election petition is ridiculed by the respondents or their agents as amounting to nothing.

The outcome of the motion for joinder should serve a timely warning. Interpretation of legal provisions could be as slippery as okro soup. The way a lawyer, emotionally involved in putting together a case, would interpret a section of the law or constitution as suiting his purpose, may not be the same as a judge totally detached from the case would see it.

Any "cast-in-concrete" interpretation of a provision of law, that deliberately ignores all other possible interpretations to the contrary, could amount to one counting his chickens before they are hatched, and a source of future embarrassment.

A word to the wise ...

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