Private legal practitioner and law lecturer Clara Kasser-Tee has criticized the conduct of two justices hearing the presidential election petition in which leading members of the New Patriotic Party (NPP) are seeking to overturn the 2012 election results as declared by the Electoral Commission.
The two justices, William Atuguba and James Dotse, grabbed the headlines on two separate occasions when the National Democratic Congress (NDC) applied to be joined as respondents in the case.
On Thursday, January 10, 2013, Justice William Atuguba burst out in anger, charging the justices to be strong and truly independent as the petitioners raised an objection to the composition of the panel.
Philip Addison, a lawyer for the petitioners, did not tell the court ehich amongst the nine justices he objected to nor did he clarify the grounds of the objection, but that did not stop Justice William Atuguba from bursting out.
“This country is solid but is breaking down because principles are being chopped down to pedestrian level. The Court must be strong and truly independent. The health of [our] country depends on us," he declared as he pounded on the table.
Though Justice Atuguba did not explain the reasons for his outburst, Nana Ato Dadzie, a member of the NDC legal team, told journalists that he had heard on radio that the petitioners were objecting of Justice Atuguba’s inclusion on the panel on the grounds that he is a cousin of Dr. Raymond Atuguba, Executive Secretary to the president.
When the case was recalled on Wednesday, another judge was reported to have issued a vehement denial of allegations being peddled by certain high-ranking members of the NDC, some of who are directly connected to the case, that he was formerly a member of NPP and once served as Volta Region chairman of the party.
Justice Dotse announced in open court that he had heard on radio that he was a former Chairman of the NPP, an allegation he insisted was untrue as he challenged anybody with evidence to that effect to make it available.
He said that neither he nor the court would be intimidated from carrying out their constitutional duty.
But the utterances and conduct of the two justices have been contentious, with some stakeholders criticizing the judges.
Clara Kasser-Tee told Joy News that judges are humans with feelings but that this does not entitle to behave the way they did.
She said that if neither of the parties has raised an issue in open court, it is completely out of place for a judge to bring up it up just because it has been discussed on radio even if it is closely related to the case.
Kasser-Tee added that judges occupy a sensitive position and must live above public banter.
She feared the judges’ final decisions may be clouded by the controversies on radio.
Former Second Deputy Speaker of Parliament Prof. Mike Ocquaye partly agreed with Kasser-Tee’s views.
However, he held the position that judges have a right to clear factually inaccurate statements made about them but added that they must be cautious in order not to expose themselves to public ridicule.
Both he and Kasser-Tee recommended that the judges use judicial secretaries to correct public statements they consider untrue.