Opinion

We must obey court orders or risk disorder

The recent mayhem at Anloga underlines the need to respect judicial restraining orders. It appears that the court ordered that certain ceremonies should not proceed. This apparently was ignored.

A similar situation was reported to have occurred in Accra about a similar matter not long ago. Self restraint on one side appears to have averted greater confusion and more loss of life at the time. It is time to realize that we must all (including the highly placed) obey court orders otherwise we undermine our own security.

A court order which most of us have heard about is injunction. The blunt truth is that we have been ignoring injunctions for a long time – The culprits have been mostly those in high positions.

I had my first experience of court orders in 1960. I obtained an injunction to restrain a minister from building on a piece of land while ownership was being decided. The bailiff said “You mean I should serve the minister?” I said “yes”. He expressed surprise and unwillingness. Eventually, it was agreed that I would col¬lect him at 8.00 a.m. and take him to the Minister.

When we got to the ministry, the minister was already at his desk. I knocked at his door, greeted him and exchanged pleasantries. I introduced the baliff to him and he was served with the court order. He obeyed the order.

I am, therefore, not surprised when I hear these days that some “big men” refuse to see those who serve court orders and even threaten to have them beaten.

Recent events at Anloga made me update myself about restraining orders, injunctions and the like. An ignorant educated chief executive accused me not long in the Daily Graphic of being “too known” by commenting on subjects from aardvark to zoology. I pity those who do not derive pleasure from reading and learning. At secondary school at Achimota I was taught that if you did not know you look it up or ask someone who knows.

I have an idea about the meaning of injunction. But in order that I may not mislead others even slightly, I looked it up. Injunction is described or defined as “a judicial order restraining a person from beginning or continuing an action”.

Now the courts, if they are true to their calling, do not make these orders ”by heart”. They listen to arguments and weigh the evidence carefully. They give the order if the action or process about to begin, threatens or invades the legal right of another person.

They may also give an order that something must be done. For example the order may request restitution to an injured party.

My lawyer friends have explained to me how to proceed with a substituted service and other fine procedures. As a lay man interested in effective measures to ensure peace in the evening of life, I would suggest that we should seriously consider legislation which may regard publication in a particular media as sufficient notice of service.

We must make court orders meaningful otherwise we may for example frustrate innocent citizens on whose land rich men and women build with impunity. Such aggrieved persons may take the law into their hands and peace may be disturbed. Rendering court orders ineffective through alleged non-receipt of the order may also lead to serious disturbances in emotive situations like the nomination and installation of a chief.

Once we have removed the excuse of not receiving the order we should deal firmly with those who disobey such orders. I believe contempt of court is the charge for’ such behaviour. Those who are guilty of contempt of court should be jailed until they purge themselves of the contempt. This should be done irrespective of the status of the offender. We should forget the rule of law if we do not do this.

The rule of law can only be satisfactorily maintained if the people have confidence in the courts and the law enforcement agencies. In the case of nomination and installation of chiefs, the executive which directly or indirectly controls the police and other law enforcement agencies sometimes has an interest in certain matters before the security forces.

For example we agree that chieftaincy should be guaranteed and maintained. But the executive is often jittery about chiefs who appear to have their own mind. Good traditional chiefs are normally influential. Party functionaries are therefore quick to report to headquarters stories about chiefs who “do not cooperate”. The executive then sends strong or muted signals. Appropriate action is then taken against such a chief.

In the past chiefs who do not “cooperate” were destooled. Today this is difficult. Therefore there is a tendency to ensure that chiefs who are to be installed are “friendly” to the government of the moment.

There is therefore a tendency for rul¬ing party supporters with a weak case in a chieftaincy dispute to approach the executive directly or indirectly and propose measures to enable their candidate to win. The perception then spreads that “government supports” a particular candidate. This perception is reinforced when the police is not even-handed in dealing with the two parties in case of conflict.

Disillusionment is complete when it is believed that even the courts are influenced by the executive and the political establishment.

We have to face this awkward situation. It is difficult for the police commandant to ignore the promptings of the Regional Minister and other security officers in the area. There is a school of thought which holds that once you define a problem the solution is clear.

In this particular case we have to admit that a problem. It is only then that we can think of a solution together. It is only then that the chief execute can provide that leadership which firmly rejects interference in chieftaincy disputes.

Meanwhile we should strengthen the courts to give untainted orders. And these orders should be obeyed by all without equivocation or any mental reservation.

Source: K. B. Asante/Daily Graphic