Private legal practitioner, Mr. Sam Okudzeto, says he was happy with the Supreme Court ruling in which Daily Searchlight newspaper editor Ken Kuranchie and NDC Communicator, Stephen Atubiga were found guilty of criminal contempt.
He said the sentencing of Messrs Kuranchie and Atubiga to 10 and 3 days’ imprisonment respectively, was necessary to indicate to the public that the dignity of a court must always be respected.
Mr. Okudzeto, who is also a former President of the Ghana Bar Association, told Joy FM’s Super Morning Show that clearly some media personnel had, in their commentary on the presidential election petition being heard by the Supreme Court, “(had) gone beyond what we might say is fair comment.”
Ken Kuranchie was sentenced to 10 days’ imprisonment for comments considered by the court to be offensive and for which he failed to show remorse. Stephen Atubiga, on the other hand, got a mitigated sentence of three days’ imprisonment for incendiary comments he made on radio.
Unlike Mr. Kuranchie, who sought to explain his comments, Atubiga unconditionally retracted the offending statements and apologized profusely to the court.
Speaking on the sentences, Mr. Okudzeto said contrary to suggestions that the court adopted some unknown procedures in sentencing the two, the court actually acted within the powers granted by the constitution.
Quoting Article 19 Clauses 11 and 12 to back his argument, the respected legal practitioner said, the Superior Court has been given sufficient power to preserve its dignity and the respect it deserves.
He said although Clause 11 states that: “No person shall be convicted of a criminal offence unless the defined and the penalty for it is prescribed in a written law,” Clause 12 permitted the justices to do what they did.
Article 19 (12) states that: “Clause (11) of this article shall not prevent a Superior court from punishing a person for contempt of itself notwithstanding that the act or omission constituting the contempt is not defined in a written law, and the penalty is not so prescribed.”
In his view, the growing culture in Ghana where people’s reputations can be tarnished with wanton disregard must be curbed.
“It is time for us to [exercise] restraint and to begin to appreciate that freedom of speech does not give you a license to be abusive, to be arrogant, to be insulting, and I think this is what happened in court yesterday, and I'm so happy about it,” he stated.
Mr. Okudzeto said the comments attributed to Ken Kuranchie were rude and arrogant, and his lawyers should have sought to mitigate instead of attempting to explain as they did in court.
Supporting his position, the Executive Director of the Media Foundation for West Africa, Prof. Kwame Karikari said the media had been quite reckless in their reportage on the case.
He agreed there was “too much insulting and waywardness in the way we comment on public issues in this country.”
Dr. Frankie Asare Donkor, the President of the Ghana Centre for PEN, advocates of free speech, however, disagreed.
He said even though media responsibility was critical, the mode of curbing irresponsibility and recklessness in the media adopted by the Supreme Court was dangerous.
For him, the manner in which Ken Kuranchie and Stephen Atubiga were summarily sentenced amounted to criminalizing free speech.
Another legal practitioner, Samson Lardy Ayenini, however, disagreed with him, insisting that the court was entitled to take such decisions if it felt that the conduct and comments of certain individuals had scandalized it.
He said although CI 47, Order 50 had spelt out a process of committal for contempt which requires the Attorney-General to file an affidavit to which the alleged contemnor will have the opportunity to respond, there were other authorities permitting the Supreme Court to summarily charge and sentence people for contempt regardless of whether the offence is committed in or outside the court. He cited Rule 2 of the CI47 and The Republic v. Liberty Press to ground his argument.
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