Apparently fed up with the challenge to its authority and having resolved to stamp out irresponsible comments which scandalise its authority, the Supreme Court yesterday let its legal axe fall when it sentenced two persons to a total of 13 daysí imprisonment for defying its orders.
The Editor of the Daily Searchlight, Mr Kenneth Agyei Kuranchie, was sentenced to 10 daysí imprisonment, while a member of the communications team of the National Democratic Congress (NDC), Stephen Atubiga, was jailed three days.
A third person, Mr Kwaku Boahen, the Ashanti Regional Youth Organiser of the NDC, breathed an air of freedom when he was discharged following the emergence of evidence that he was innocent.
According to the court, Mr Kuranchie was given 10 days to serve in prison because he had not shown remorse for attacking the sanctity of the court, while it took into consideration the unconditional apology rendered by Atubiga and, accordingly, handed him the three-day jail term.
The court held that Kuranchieís statement had brought the administration of justice into disrepute because it was no doubt made ďto defy the authority of the courtĒ.
With respect to Boahen, he was accused of making contemptuous statements on a private radio station in Kumasi but the New Statesman, which had published the story, retracted it and apologised to Boahen on the grounds that he had made those statements before the courtís June 24, 2013 touchline had been issued.
Guilty of Criminal Contempt
Kuranchie and Atubiga were found guilty of criminal contempt in clear contravention of the Supreme Courtís June 24, 2013 order which directed all persons to desist from making prejudicial comments and distorting facts in the ongoing presidential election petition.
They had been, in the morning of June 27, 2013, ordered to appear before the court, barely 24 hours after the court had barred the Deputy Communications Director of the New Patriotic Party (NPP), Mr Sammy Awuku, from attending the hearing of the case until the final determination of the matter for making inappropriate comments in connection with the courtís June 24 order.
Kuranchieís Offence and Lack of Remorse
Kuranchie disapproved of the Supreme Courtís ban of Mr Awuku from the courtís sitting and also described the decision, which also warned the Daily Guide against misrepresenting facts, as hypocritical and selective.
The Editor appeared in court in the company of three lawyers ó Mr Atta Akyea, Mr Yaw Owusu-Addo and Mr Kofi Boakye ó but his posturing clearly indicated he stood by his words.
His bid to apologise to the court after Mr Akyea had intervened did not help matters, as he rendered a conditional apology.
Mr Akyea attempted to apologise on Kuranchieís behalf, but the court advised him not to force his client to apologise if he was not willing to render an unqualified apology.
After 30 minutes of interaction among Mr Kuranchie, his lawyer and the court, the court went on a break and returned with its decision.
Kuranchie and Atubiga were handcuffed by policemen and whisked out of the courtroom some few minutes later to begin their sentences.
Atubiga Renders unqualified Apology
Atubiga is said to have warned that the NDC would not accept the verdict of the court if the first petitioner and 2012 presidential candidate of the NPP, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, was declared the President of the country.
But he rendered several apologies in the media after the court had, on June 27, 2013, summoned him to appear before it.
Atubiga looked sober and remorseful and stood with both hands behind his back and took full responsibility for what he described several times as ďirresponsibleĒ comment.
He appealed to the court to give him a ďsecond chance at lifeĒ and stated: ďThere is no excuse for my mistake. I take full responsibility for my irresponsible action.Ē
He also admitted that he should have been more careful in choosing his words.
ďI will choose my words more carefully in future,Ē he promised.
After answering several questions from members of the bench and describing his statement as ďirresponsibleĒ in virtually each line of his apology, Atubiga told the court he was a father and husband.
Repeat What You said and Foolís Paradise Analogy
Asked by Mr Justice Paul Baffoe-Bonnie to repeat what he said, Atubiga said he did not have the guts to do so, adding, ďI pray to God those words never come out of my mouth.Ē
Mr Justice Baffoe-Bonnie asked him about what had come over him when he made those contemptuous statements.
ďNow look at you,Ē he added.
He accused Atubiga of preparing the minds of the people not to accept the courtís verdict, maintaining that ďthere will be a judgement, whichever way the axe fallsĒ.
ďYou will live in a foolís paradise to think we wonít give a decision. People like you cannot stop us from giving a decision,Ē Mr Justice Baffoe-Bonnie emphatically stated.
It emerged that Atubiga had stayed in the United States of America (USA) for 14 years and that also seemed to have infuriated the bench, which held the view that people like him would bolt with their family members after their irresponsible statements had stoked conflict.
Telling the court he was once a victim of the Bawku conflict, Atubiga said he should have learnt lessons then.
He said in an answer to a question that he was not a graduate but an electrician and businessman.
Lawyers for the petitioners and the respondents, Messrs Philip Addison, James Quashie-Idun, Tony Lithur and Tsatsu Tsikata, pleaded on Atubigaís behalf for showing remorse for his actions.
The lawyers had, earlier in a joint press briefing, expressed their resolve not to henceforth defend anybody who made irresponsible statements under the guise of politics.
Clarification on Daily Guide
Mr Justice Dotse clarified the fact that the Daily Guide was only used as an example by the court to warn the media to desist from misreporting on the ongoing petition.
He said the paper was not the only offensive newspaper, adding, ďThis court will be the last to gag free speech.Ē
He, however, reminded all that the cornerstone of every democracy bordered on ďresponsible and courteousĒ language, adding that it was unfortunate for Kuranchie to have defended a statement Mr Awuku had apologised for making.
Mr Justice Atuguba reminded stubborn politicians that the court would not renege on its resolve to restore sanity into Ghanaís body politic in order to save the larger number of Ghanaians who would bear the brunt of conflict should it arise as a result of the inaction of politicians.
The court said it was not there to harm anybody but that it would do all within its power to protect the Constitution and the interest of the ordinary Ghanaian.
Other members of the panel were Mr Justice Julius Ansah, Mrs Justice Sophia Adinyira, Ms Justice Rose C. Owusu, Mr Justice Jones Dotse, Mr Justice Anin Yeboah, Mr Justice Paul Baffoe-Bonnie, Mr Justice N. S. Gbadegbe and Mrs Justice Vida Akoto-Bamfo.
Source: Mabel Aku Baneseh/Daily Graphic/Ghana
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