The Judgement Debt Commission has chastised the General Legal Council over what it says is the council’s disrespect for the country’s courts.
The Commission is unhappy with the council’s refusal to pay the compensation to the former Deputy Registrar of the Ghana Law School Lawyer John Yaw Opoku for unlawful dismissal, despite a directive by the High Court.
The General Legal Council which is chaired by the Chief Justice is the body that supervises legal education in the country and is thus in charge of the Ghana Law School.
According to a copy of the report of the Sole Judgement Debt Commissioner intercepted by Joy news, the Commission received a petition from John Yaw Opoku that the Council had refused to honour a judgment entered against it in his favour as far back as 24th February 2011.
The facts of the case are that on 21st November 2003, former Secretary to the General Legal Council, the late Mr. E. A. Owusu-Ansah, wrote to Mr. Opoku terminating his appointment.
Not pleased about the manner in which he was treated by his employer, he proceeded to the High Court of Justice to seek redress.
The council filed a statement of defence on 14th July 2004. But it thereafter abandoned the case leaving the trial High Court with no option than to enter an ex-parte judgment against the council on the 25th day of February 2011 after hearing plaintiff’s side of the story.
Despite numerous petitions from the plaintiff to the General Legal Council, it has failed to honour the judgement.
“The Commission’s finding was that the Council had no basis or reason justifying its conduct in refusing to honour a judgment of a Court of competent jurisdiction that was delivered over three (3) years ago. In fact, from the judgment of the Court, the conduct of the Council in terminating the appointment of the Plaintiff/Petitioner was reprehensible. It was the result of arbitrary show of power,” the report said.
“The statement from the trial High Court did not speak well of a respected body like the General Legal Council. If the Council, whose duty it is to ensure high professional standards or conduct in the legal service and ultimately justice in the country could defy with impunity legal etiquette by refusing to adhere to simple legal norms like the payment of a valid judgment debt, then the country has a long way to go,” it added.
It will be recalled that when Lawyer Opoku appeared before the commission, he indicated the court had ordered the council to pay him two years salary arrears plus interest from the day of termination. Per his calculation, the debt owed him was over 400,000 cedis.
Below are the details of the case as captured in the commission’s report.
JOHN YAW OPOKU v GENERAL LEGAL COUNCIL
The Commission received a petition from the above-named Plaintiff Mr. John Yaw Opoku. The petitioner who is a legal practitioner, complained bitterly in his petition about the conduct of the General Legal Council. The epitome of his complaint in the petition dated 21st October 2014 was that the Council had refused or failed to honour a judgment entered against it in his favour as far back as 24th February 2011; i.e. more than three (3) years, nine (9) months as at the time he was petitioning.
The facts as dictated in the petition were that he (the petitioner) was appointed by the General Legal Council (hereinafter referred to as the Council) as a full-time Deputy Registrar of the Ghana School of Law effective 1st December 2000. After holding that position for almost three (3) years without blemish, his appointment was terminated in November 2003 under very bizarre circumstances.
Not pleased about the manner in which he was treated by his employer, he proceeded to the High Court of Justice to seek redress. This was after his petition to the Chairman of the Council against the termination of his appointment went unheeded.
The Council, as the defendant in the case, failed to put up a fight though it filed a Statement of Defence on 14th July 2004, albeit a weak one of course. The Council thereafter abandoned the case leaving the trial High Court with no option than to enter an ex-parte judgment against the Council on the 25th day of February 2011 after hearing plaintiff’s side of the story.
After obtaining judgment, Plaintiff filed an Entry of Judgment on 21st March 2011 and had same served on the Council. The Council on receipt of the Entry of Judgment did not appeal against the said judgment, which implied that it accepted it in full force. Notwithstanding this, the Council failed to honour it.
On 7th December 2012; i.e. about ten (10) months after the judgment, Plaintiff petitioned the Chairperson of the Council on the failure of the Council to make good the orders of the Honourable Court. The Chairperson of the Council referred plaintiff’s petition to the Director of the Ghana School of Law who in turn referred it to the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice.
After waiting for some months without receiving any response from either the Council or the Attorney-General, plaintiff forwarded a fresh petition dated 17th April 2012 to the Honourable Attorney-General and Minister of Justice praying for justice to be done in his case by the compliance with the valid orders of the trial High Court. However, from that time to the time he addressed this petition to this Commission, plaintiff had not heard anything from the Attorney-General.
Plaintiff contended that he did not want to go into execution by taking certain measures that would be inimical to the smooth operations of the Council. He therefore decided to petition this Commission, which was mandated by the President to inquire into all judgment debts entered against the State and its institutions from 1992 to date, since the judgment debt the Council owed him, fell within this category.
After receiving the petition from Mr. John Yaw Opoku, the Commission invited him and the Council to appear before it to unravel the reasons behind the alleged misconduct of the Council in the whole matter. The Plaintiff dutifully appeared before the Commission and expatiated on his petition. He made available to the Commission inter alia, copies of:
his appointment letter dated 6th September 2000; notice of termination of his appointment dated 21st November 2003; statement of defence filed by the Council on 14th July 2004; the Judgment of the High Court dated 25th February 2011; Entry of Judgment filed on 21st March 2011; petition to the Chairperson of the Council on the non-payment of the judgment debt dated 7th December 2011 with a stamp indicating that it was received by the office of the chairperson on 8th December 2011; petition to the Minister of Justice and Attorney-General dated 17th April 2012; etc.
The Council also appeared on a later date after it sought an adjournment to gather the documents covering the case from its archives. It was represented by the 2nd Deputy Judicial Secretary Mr. Samuel Boakye Yiadom.
The fact is that, at the time the incident happened in 2003, the Chairperson of the Council was the late Chief Justice His Lordship Justice George Kingsley Acquah with Mr. Kwaku Ansah Asare as the Director of the Ghana School of Law. The Judicial Secretary at the time who doubled as the Secretary to the Council was the late Mr. E. A. Owusu-Ansah. He authored the petitioner’s dismissal letter on 21st November 2003. This means that the current Chief Justice and Chairperson of the Council Her Ladyship Georgina Theodora Wood and her Judicial Secretary and two Deputy Judicial Secretaries were all not at post.
In fact, the Council’s representative who appeared before the Commission; i.e. the 2nd Deputy Judicial Secretary Mr. Samuel Boakye Yiadom, could not advance any good reasons supporting the termination of the appointment of the Plaintiff/Petitioner. He equally could not advance any good reasons for refusing to comply with the judgment and orders of the trial High Court after the Council had failed miserably to contest the case in court. The fact is that he and his current bosses were not privy to what happened so the best he could do was to plead on behalf of the Council to be given some time to comply with the orders of the Court.
He prayed the Plaintiff/Petitioner not to go into execution as the Council was prepared to factor the judgment debt in its next budget for payment. He therefore pleaded with the Commission to advise the Petitioner to meet with the accountant of the Council for an amicable settlement of the judgment debt, which they could not, under any circumstances, challenge.
The Commission’s finding was that the Council had no basis or reason justifying its conduct in refusing to honour a judgment of a Court of competent jurisdiction that was delivered over three (3) years ago.
In fact, from the judgment of the Court, the conduct of the Council in terminating the appointment of the Plaintiff/Petitioner was reprehensible. It was the result of arbitrary show of power. The trial Court was not charitable at all to an august body like the Council (i.e. the defendant in the case), which is the umbrella body that supervises or organizes legal education in the country and also seeks to uphold high standards of professional conduct within the legal service, when it stated in its judgment as follows:
“This case was virtually undefended. On the 15th of July 2004 I gave judgment in default of defence but had to set it aside on the 18th of October 2004 on application of the defendant. It filed a defence and has since abandoned the trial. It is after reading the eventual evidence that unfolded mainly from the plaintiff’s side at the end of the case that I understood why the defendant abandoned the trial. It had a very bad case, and such an embarrassing case the best was to abandon the contest. I would have been surprised if anybody from the defendant office had appeared to defend this action. After all, the defendant was satisfied it did what it had sworn to do; i.e. do away with the Plaintiff and the law could go hang. It is really unfortunate and indeed frightening that such deeds could find their way into a legal institution like the General Legal Council.”
The above statement from the trial High Court did not speak well of a respected body like the General Legal Council. If the Council whose duty it is to ensure high professional standards or conduct in the legal service and ultimately justice in the country, could defy with impunity legal etiquette by refusing to adhere to simple legal norms like the payment of a valid judgment debt, then the country has a long way to go.
It is not surprising that other state institutions like MDAs, which had nothing to do with the advancement of justice, as has been unearthed by this Commission, are behaving in a like manner. All these ultimately commit the State to the payment of unjustified judgment debts as a result of acts of impunity and arbitrary display of unbridled power. This country really needs institutional cleansing to purge it of this costive character of public officials in the discharge of their public duties before it can exit from this Cimmerian picture of financial doom.