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Attorney-General backs proposal to expand Supreme Court Bench

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The Attorney-General (AG), Godfred Yeboah Dame, has affirmed that the proposal to augment the number of justices of the Supreme Court from the standard 15, alongside the Chief Justice, is in line with the constitution and would promote efficient justice delivery.

This statement comes in response to the President’s decision to solicit the AG’s counsel on the Chief Justice’s appeal for an increased number of Supreme Court justices.

In a communique to the President, Chief Justice Gertrude Torkornoo emphasised the pressing need for the expansion of the Supreme Court bench, stating, “In view of the realities of the court’s workload and output and the need for the court to appropriately serve the justice needs of the nation.”

She elaborated on the current operational conditions of the Supreme Court of Ghana (SCOG), which functions three days a week in alternating weeks to manage its caseload.

“Two days are used for panel sitting, and one day for the sitting of a single judge. The SCOG therefore sits 12 times a month. On any given day of sitting, the court deals with a minimum of 15 cases and so works on not fewer than 45 matters in a week or approximately 180 matters in a month,” she clarified.

In his letter addressing the Chief Justice’s request, Mr Dame advised President Akufo-Addo that the determination of the number of Supreme Court justices at any given time would be influenced by the administration of justice and the court’s requirements.

“Given the breadth of the multiplicity of jurisdictions of the Supreme Court, the request for the increase in the number of justices serving on the Supreme Court from the conventional fifteen (in addition to the Chief Justice) to twenty, is not only constitutional but would ensure speedy and effective justice, minimise delays and unnecessary expense and conduce to the general efficient administration of the Supreme Court,” he stated.

The AG also highlighted that the execution of the Supreme Court’s functions, in accordance with the constitution, would necessitate differently constituted panels of the Supreme Court convening concurrently.

“Understandably, the permutations in the constitution of the panels, almost simultaneously, could be daunting for effective and efficient work in the face of the limited number of Justices at the Supreme Court, as the Court is incessantly inundated with cases,” he added.

Mr Dame observed that the substantial increase in the backlog of 414 and 595 cases in the 2021/2022 and 2022/2023 legal years, during which there were the fewest number of Justices of the Supreme Court for the five-year period under review, provided empirical justification for the need to expand the number of Justices at the Supreme Court to curb the rising backlog of cases.

“The enhancement of the membership of the Supreme Court to twenty, as requested in the brief by Her Ladyship the Chief Justice, is appropriate,” he added.

However, Mr Dame underscored the need to contemplate the fiscal implications on the public purse of any supplementary appointment of Justices to the Supreme Court.

“This is in view of the charge of emoluments payable to Justices of the Supreme Court on the Consolidated Fund,” he added.

He pointed out that the jurisdictions exercised by other Supreme Courts in notable countries in the Common Law tradition are comparatively much narrower, relative to the extensive multiple jurisdictions conferred on the Supreme Court of Ghana.

“Ultimately, a constitutional amendment circumscribing the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court of Ghana, in the long term, is necessary, as stated above. Therefore, unlike in Canada, the United Kingdom, Kenya and South Africa, where the number of justices of the Supreme Court is capped, the highest number of Justices of the Supreme Court of Ghana is not capped in the Constitution or in the Courts Act, 1993 (Act 459).

“This gives discretion to the appointing authority to increase the appointment of Justices to the Supreme Court subject to the demands of the needs of justice,” he added.

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