Chief Justice Georgina Wood: Prosecute Corrupt Judges
The Chief Justice, Mrs Justice Georgina Theodora Wood, has recommended the prosecution, imprisonment and removal from judicial office of judges who are found to be corrupt.
She urged judges to demonstrate their commitment to the war against corruption by declaring their assets periodically, especially, where public officials were required to do so, adding, “appropriate deterrent penalties must exist for violations of these requirements.”
While dealing with how to purge judges of corruption, she also underscored the need to streamline the appointment of judges by calling for an independent judicial appointment body to be at the heart of the judicial selection process.
She said judicial appointments should be merit-based, and candidates should be required to demonstrate a record of competence and integrity.
“An objective competitive and transparent appointment of judges ensures that only the highest quality candidates are selected and that they do not feel indebted to the particular politician or senior judge who appointed them,” she said.
Opening a four-day capacity-building seminar on corruption, money laundering and terrorist financing for judges in the West African sub-region in Accra yesterday, Justice Wood said judges should be opened to receive limited immunity for actions relating to judicial duty.
The seminar is being organised by the Inter-Governmental Action Group Against Money Laundering in West Africa (GIABA), with the view to updating the knowledge of judges in the sub-region for them to handle cases on those criminal activities more effectively.
The participants are from Ghana, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Liberia and The Gambia.
In a charge similar to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount where he admonished in Matthew 7:5 that: “You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye”, the Chief Justice underscored the need for judges to be clean of corruption in order to mount high moral grounds in the fight against corruption.
“I do not see how any judge caught in the web of corruption can himself or herself actively champion the fight against the canker,” she said.
In what could be described as her severest prescription to purge the Judiciary of corrupt judges, she called on constitutional bodies, with oversight responsibility on the Judiciary, “not to shy of removing errant judges who use the high office they occupy and the enormous powers they wield to engage in unwholesome acts that undermine the sanctity of the state.”
She said allegations against judges should be rigorously investigated by appropriate bodies, including independent bodies, adding that the removal process should be transparent and fair, with strict and exacting standards.
Justice Wood said for any judiciary to function effectively, it must have a passion for justice, and must, in significant terms, “be fiercely independent, and imbued with a high sense of integrity, both institutionally and substantially”.
She said the lack of those two critical values was bound to undermine the credibility and erode the legitimacy of the Judiciary.
“An independent judge is not afraid to rule against excessive government regulation, over-zealous law enforcement, or discriminatory policies. A judge who fears to be victimised or criticised for making unpopular decisions is less likely to be impartial and independent,” she said.
Justice Wood said considering the fact that Africa was ravaged by corruption and grinding poverty, “Judges are expected to be bearers of impeccable integrity and wholesome judicial conduct.”
In a speech read on her behalf by the Solicitor-General, Mrs Ama Gaisie, the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Mrs Marietta Brew Appiah-Oppong, expressed the hope that the judges would be better disposed at the end of the seminar to continue the fight against corruption.
The Attorney-General and Minister of Justice of The Gambia, Justice Amie Joof, said judges had enormous responsibility to discharge because the existence and preponderance of corruption, money laundering and terrorist financing were detrimental to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
The Director-General of GIABA, Dr Abdullahi Shehu, said the lack of successful prosecution and conviction of cases was undermining the fight against corruption, money laundering and terrorist financing, and urged judges to rise to the challenge.
The Chief Executive Officer of the Financial Intelligence Centre, Mr Samuel Thompson-Essel, called for collaboration and co-operation among ECOWAS members to address the problem.