It is understood without doubt that the Supreme Court of any country exercises the finality to the interpretation of the nation’s constitutional laws. In this regard, I would like to seek for the interpretation of the legal statement or dictum, “Fraud Vitiates All Contracts”, from the Ghana Supreme Court, without necessarily going through the lower courts to finally end up at the Supreme Court.
I am a layman in the legal profession but do research on subjects I don’t understand but keen to have a rough idea about hence my eagerness to inquire what the above quoted statement implies in law. When does it apply? How does it apply? And, why is it cited at all?
From my research and per my shallow comprehension of the statement “Fraud vitiates all contracts”, it means that no matter how credible your litigious case may be, whether as a plaintiff or defendant, as soon as an element of fraud is detected or established, your case will fall or collapse like a pack of cards or bricks hit by a powerful object. Is it right, my honourable Supreme Court Justices?
From my research, it states, “No judgment of a court, no order of a Minister, can be allowed to stand if it has been obtained by fraud. Fraud unravels everything. The court is careful not to find fraud unless it is distinctly pleaded and proved; but once it is proved, it vitiates judgments, contracts and all transactions whatsoever…”, quote-unquote.
For the benefit of my other equally laypersons in the legal profession, and also those with difficulty to understand certain words, I will define what fraud and vitiates are.
FRAUD is defined by the dictionary as, “the crime of obtaining money or property by deceiving people” or “a person or thing that is not what it claims or pretends to be”
In law, fraud is intentional deception to secure unfair or unlawful gain, or to deprive a victim of a legal right.
VITIATE is defined by the dictionary as, “destroy or impair the legal validity of” or “to destroy or damage something”.
Going by the definitions above, let us have a look at the two underlying case scenarios to better understand the legal statement cited above which is the subject matter or topic for discussion in this publication. However, what the Supreme Court says will supersede my viewpoint. And, I hope they will interpret it as it is understood and applied in other advanced jurisdictions but not as how interpretations are influenced in many a court of law in the developing countries to make a mockery of the legal systems in such countries.
Is it fraud for someone to falsify a document, or use someone else’s certificate, to obtain a job in Ghana? Assuming the person falsifying a document or using someone else’s certificate is able to get the job to become the head of the company or the institution he has secured a job with, and stayed in the job for say five years, could he be sacked or prosecuted, when it is later found out that the document he used to apply for the job was falsified or was not his own? Will he be allowed to carry on with his job because he has already been in it for five years, therefore, it is totally irrelevant to prefer any case against him to seek for his removal or prosecution?
Has a crime an expiry date, thus, Statute of limitations? “When a statute of limitations expires in a criminal case, the courts no longer have jurisdiction. Most crimes that have statutes of limitations are distinguished from serious crimes as these may be brought at any time. In civil law systems, such provisions are typically part of their civil or criminal codes. A statute of limitations, known in civil law systems as a prescriptive period, is a law passed by a legislative body to set the maximum time after an event within which legal proceedings may be initiated. When the time specified in a statute of limitations passes, a claim might no longer be filed or, if filed, may be subject to dismissal if the defence against that claim is raised that the claim is time-barred as having been filed after the statutory limitations period” – quoted from Wikipedia.
The statement just quoted is about the time limit within which to prefer a case against certain established committed crimes. Therefore, if you come to discover that someone has illegally obtained a position fraudulently, five years after the person being in the job, could an action be taken against the fellow by application of “Fraud vitiates all contracts”? Let us please hear your view, Ghana Supreme Court Justices.
Again, if say, a traditional chief makes false statements on his Chieftaincy Declaration Form to be gazetted, and stays on as paramount chief for say five years, what will happen to him if after discovering his crime? Can a criminal lawsuit be instituted against him to remove him from his throne? What about if from the very inception of the chief’s gazetting the crime was detected and a lawsuit was immediately preferred against him but has been going through the lower courts with the attendant unnecessary delays and adjournments? Will “fraud vitiates all contracts” be finally applied to him or he will be allowed to carry on as the chief because he has already been in that position, thus, a paramount chief, for a continuous five years?
Is falsification of a document a crime at all? And, what is falsification of a document?
FALSIFICATION is defined by the dictionary as “the action of changing something, such as a document, in order to deceive people”
FORGERY is “the act of producing something that lacks authenticity with the intent to commit fraud or deception”
In the Ghana Criminal Code 1960 (Act 29), it states among other sections and especially, in Section 248 as follows:
Section 248—Making False Declaration, etc., for Officer or Voting.
“Whoever, in order that he may obtain or be qualified to act in any public office or to vote at any public election makes, signs, publishes, or uses any declaration, statement or oath, required by law in such case, or any certificate or testimonial as to his conduct or services, or as to any other matter which is material for the obtaining by him of such office, or for his qualification to act in such office or to vote at such election, shall, if he does so, knowing that the declaration, statement, oath, certificate, or testimonial is false in any material particular, be guilty of a misdemeanour”.
Therefore, falsifying a document to obtain what you are normally not due is a crime.
Now, I am waiting for the overall interpretations and implications of “Fraud Vitiates All Contracts” from the Ghana Supreme Court. I need their interpretation to answer a question posed to me by a fellow Ghanaian work-colleague in London, following from certain published articles by me.