Judge says commissions of inquiries not high courts

Mr. Justice Eric Kyei-Baffour, an Accra High Court Judge, has said the setting up of commissions of inquiries have limitations regarding the powers that they wield compared to that of a high court.

He said it was unjustifiable and unlawful to draw a direct link between the status of commissions of inquiries and the high courts.

Mr Justice Kyei-Baffour said these at a training workshop for court reporters recently in Ho under the theme, “Responsible and Objective Court Reporting, Before, During and After Election 2016.”

Speaking on “Contempt of Court,” he said the contempt powers of commissions of inquiries should therefore be measured in accordance with the interpretation of Article 279 of the 1992 Constitution.

He said the ceiling of the powers of commissions of inquiry that it was equal to the high court was only in respect of enforcing the attendance of witnesses and examining them on oath, compelling witnesses to produce documentation or request to examine witnesses abroad, which were but parts of the powers of the High Court.

According to Article 279 (1) of the 1992 Constitution, a Commission of Inquiry shall have the powers, rights and privileges of the High Court or a Justice of the High Court at a trial in respect of: Enforcing the attendance of witnesses and examining them on oath, affirmation or otherwise; compelling the production of documents and the issue of a commission or request to examine witnesses abroad.

Furthermore, he said the commission may exercise the powers conferred under sections 61, 62 and 63 of the Courts ACT, (ACT 459) which says a witness summoned before a court who refuses to be sworn, or upon swearing refuses to answer questions or refuses to produce a document etc. 

He explained that the law criminalizes such acts as contempt of court and a person may summarily be dealt with, adding that such are the powers that Article 279 confers on commissions or committees.

Mr Justice Kyei-Baffour said that the Constitutional powers of the high court technically, as a superior court of judicature, in relation to contempt, go far beyond the authority to summon and compel or examine witnesses as spelt out under sections 61 and 62 of the Courts Act, (Act 459).

He therefore said the composition of Parliamentary Select Committees of Ghana’s Legislature and other commissions of inquiry instituted, “technically do not have the powers of a high court” in their sitting capacity beyond what has been spelt out under Article 279 inasmuch as contempt of court is concerned. 

The Judge noted that it was not the position of the law that such a committee could summon a person to appear before it for whatever conduct that did not take place in the presence of the committee, when it came to acts that were deemed to be contempt ex facie curiae (acts that did not take place in the view of the committee) as such powers was vested solely in a superior court and commissions/committee were not within the categories of such courts.

Mr Justice Kyei-Baffour accordingly indicted Parliament for its recent penchant of inviting persons who make statements outside the august House that they deem an affront to its dignity as not warranted by law “As it is only a Superior Court that is vested with such powers.”

He said media reports and public statements, which seek to draw direct link to the power and capacity of the two institutions cannot be correct.

“Members of the general public should desist from making such inferences and be guided,” he said.

Source: GNA

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