I have keenly followed the Accra High Court Contempt Case against the Member of Parliament (MP) for Assin Central, Kennedy Ohene Agyapong, dragging him to appear before the court, to explain why he should not be punished for insulting or denigrating a Justice of the High court, an insult which took place outside the court room.
On September 2, the MP allegedly insulted the Hight Court Judge, Justice Amos Wuntah Wuni, who presided over a land litigation case involving Mr Agyapong, on Net2 Television.
Keenly following the issue, I would like to respectfully submit that, the procedure adopted by the High Court Judge, Justice Wuntah Wuni, seeking to punish the MP, is not only misguided but very deficient in nature, and also lacks meritorious value in the face of the repealed criminal libel laws in Ghana which decriminalises freedom of expression like the issue at hand.
Though everyone seems silent on the matter, I think the case utterly lacks merit and has very little substance to warrant a punishment of any court, based on the fact that the Judge’s issue raised is solely positioned on the alleged insult, nothing else, which also happened outside the court room, regarding a particular land litigation suit which the Judge had already passed judgement.
This means that, since the case has already been decided, no amount of insults, threats or agitations could change or influence the outcome of that case anymore. Therefore, the MP’s comment (alleged insult) can only best be described as pure freedom of expression on the part of Kennedy Agyapong, and for that matter, seeking to punish him based on his alleged insult on the Judge who presided over the case, will totally defeat the purpose and the essence of repealing the Criminal Libel Laws (CLL) from our statutory books in Ghana, irrespective of the known fact that some Judges, including the then Acting Chief Justice who expressed their unhappiness about the repealed of the CLL.
The repeal of the Criminal Libel and Sedition Laws in Ghana in 2001 under the purview of Hon. Nana Akufo-Addo (then Attorney General), received a huge general acclamation by the public and journalists alike in Ghana, and therefore any attempt by the High Court Judge to muffle Ghanaians of their freedom of expression today, would be tantamount to abuse of the judicial power and curtailment of freedom of expression in Ghana, which will serve as indirect re-introduction of the “Culture of Silence”.
Indeed, calling a High Court Judge ‘Stupid’ or ‘Foolish’ at any place is still considered as an insult, but this cannot be deemed as defamatory to the Judge or a threat of the Judge’s life, neither it is a criminal offence under the laws of Ghana, especially when the said insult had occurred outside the court room. It can best be ascribed to freedom of expression, and this is exactly why the criminal libel laws in Ghana that kept Ghanaians in that “Culture of Silence” were repealed.
A contempt of court, often referred to simply as “contempt”, per definition, “is the offense of being disobedient to or disrespectful toward a court of law and its officers in the form of behavior that opposes or defies the authority, justice and dignity of the court.” Therefore, I would like to quiz here that, how does calling a Judge ‘Stupid or Foolish’ outside that court regarding a case which has already been decided, amounts to a disrespectful behaviour toward that court of law and its officers or be considered as opposing, undermining or defying the authority, justice and dignity of the court? Did the incident of insult happen in the court premises, whereby the MP, Kennedy Agyapong’s behaviour could be deemed as intimidatory, and can influence the final verdict of that case? Was the land litigation case not already decided? How could that be contemptuous for expressing his view about the judge who presided over the matter?
In my opinion, allowing this so-called “contempt case” against Kennedy Agyapong to pass would load up to trampling upon the freedom of expression in Ghana that came with the repeal of the Criminal Libel Laws in 2001 under our current democratic dispensation. In fact, this shouldn’t even happen under the purview of President Akufo-Addo who took that bold decision to repeal such obnoxious laws when he was the Attorney General, in 2001.
Some people have made arguments, comparing the Montie-3 to this contempt issue against Hon. Kennedy Agyapong. In contrast, the MP, Mr Agyapong’s contempt case is totally different from that of the infamous Montie-3 which actually occurred during an ongoing proceedings at the Supreme Court when the 3-contemnors threatened to cause mayhem to the Justices in their homes and possibly rape the Chief Justice at any opportunity. Whiles on live radio programme, contributing on the court case challenging the validity or otherwise of the voters’ register threatened the lives of the Supreme Court Justices and High Court judges that if their verdict on the case was not in favour of the Electoral Commission (EC).
Threatening the lives of Justices of law courts in Ghana in order to obtain a particular verdict in a case is clearly an act of contempt, unlike the issue of commenting on a case already decided, involving the MP himself.
Allowing this contempt case against Kennedy Ohene Agyapong to stand in Ghana would also mean a re-introduction of the criminal libel laws in disguised, and would contravene the letter and spirit of the 1992 Constitution of Ghana which gives right of freedom of Speech.
Per Article 164 of the constitution, which provides for the enactment of laws to protect the reputations, rights and freedoms of other persons, among others, I would have humbly suggest to the Accra High Court Judge, Justice Amos Wuntah Wuni to rather petition the Ghana National Media Commission which is empowered to ensure that responsibility is exercise well by the media, to seek redress against NET2 Television and Hon. Kennedy Agyapong.
On this contempt case, some school of thoughts have also argued that, it is rather the Attorney General that has the power by law, to have initiated the criminal contempt case against Mr Kennedy Agyapong and not the court itself that is alleging to have been insulted and scandalized. I personally share this thoughts.
Although the High Court has the power to commit for contempt, however, it appears that Justice Amos Wuntah Wuni has already erred in this instance because the act in question occurred outside the court yard regarding the case already decided.
Let me cite example of a case between Ghana govt and Multimedia group when the latter alleged that “Militia” had been uncovered training and operating at a “Security Zone”, with the complicity of the Government of President Akufo-Addo and identified the Militia group as belonging to the New Patriotic Party.
The govt decided instead to petition the National Media Commission (NMC) over the ‘Castle militia’ documentary produced by the Multimedia and Manasseh Azure.
According to the petition, “the Govt of Ghana brought complaint pursuant to article 167(b) of the Constitution as well as section 2(1) (b) of the National Media Commission Act, 1993 (Act 449) and invited NMC to investigate the publication/documentary, the subject matter of the complaint”.
The NMC investigated the matter, found the Multimedia (Joy News) guilty of their act, and concluded that the Multimedia documentary was Misleading, Inaccurate and Unethical, urged them to apologise to the government.
The MP for Assin Central, Kennedy Agyapong is also on record to have withdrawn the “Foolish judges” comment and has rendered unqualified apology on the same medium used, to the Chief Justice, Judges, and Magistrates Association of Ghana, including Justice Amos Wuntah Wuni, after referring to the judges as ‘foolish’.
Couldn’t Justice Wuni dragged Hon. Kennedy Agyapong and NET2 Television to the NMC with a complaint instead, to seek redress if he still felt peeved about the comment made by Hon. Kennedy Agyapong?
My Humble Opinion!!
Engineer, Peter Antwi Boasiako.