Former Attorney General, Martin Amidu, has cautioned law students to adopt professionalism and not bow to any pressure from external forces in the exercise of their duties.
Work to improve image of the judiciary - Amidu to law students
Martin Amidu was speaking at an induction ceremony for beginning law students at the Central University College near Prampram.
According to him, such an attitude is the only way Ghana can ensure impartiality and independence in the judicial system.
Speaking at an induction ceremony for beginning law students at the Central University College, Martin Amidu said "It is from your generation of professional lawyers that the next generation of judges will be appointed to determine how independent and impartial the administration of justice will be in this country."
"To have a good system of Law-Governance you need persons of good character as lawyers, you need lawyers who know the law, you need lawyers who think, you need lawyers who are honest and you need lawyers who the public believes are honest. A lawyer of good character must always act in accordance with his conscience of what is just and fair and must never relinquish his professional responsibility and discretion to anybody and this is the genesis of the concept of independence in a lawyer and I dare say in a judge," Martin Amidu added.
Below is the full address by the former AG.
The Pro Chancellor, Rev. Dr. Joyce Aryee,
The President of the Central University College, Professor Kwesi Yankah,
The Acting Dean Professor Ken Attafuah of the Faculty of Law and faculty members,
Distinguished invited guest, Students, ladies and gentlemen,
It is a privilege for me to be with you this morning on the august occasion of the roll call and induction ceremony that formally launches first year law students of this university on the road to attaining an academic degree in the laws. I have for the past three years been under immense pressure to accept invitations as Guest Speaker or to attend award ceremonies for the presentation of awards to me but I have regretfully been unable to accept all of them. I hate being in the public eye and particularly in the eye of the storm, if I can avoid it. Consequently when the Acting Dean of the Faculty of Law Professor (Dr.) Ken Attafuah extended this invitation to me, my natural inclination was to excuse myself.
But my experience as a lawyer compelled me to induct myself into the mission of a pastor of the laws to preach good character, integrity, fidelity and excellence to the law and the observance of the highest ethical conduct in the study and practice of the laws. I, therefore, consider my interaction with students who have dedicated themselves to begin a three to four year study of the law as an opportunity to share my perspectives on what is expected of them and what they may anticipate on this journey. Who knows, this may be the beginning that contains the seed of the future generation of a legal profession of honest persons and of proven integrity that may cultivate and internalize the obligation of putting Ghana First above self for sustainable and egalitarian development which my generation has woefully failed to provide this dear nation of ours.
It would be pleasant to think that each of the students who are to be inducted this morning have decided to take an academic degree in law because they wish to serve their fellow men but in all likelihood such social zeal influences as many grave diggers as it does law students. There is no common denominator of reasons for coming to the study of the laws.
Of three persons who rose to the front ranks of the profession in England of whom I have read, one became a lawyer because of parental pressure (Carson), the second only after he had been hammered on the stock exchange (Rufus Isaacs), and the third originally intended to enter the Church and changed his mind solely because he wanted to have enough money to get married (Marshall Hall).
Whatever each student’s inducement is to be part of this roll call and induction ceremony your course structure has been designed to provide you a theoretical understanding of what the law is and its various aspects or branches divided into categories as will facilitate an easy learning and integration of the law in a holistic manner to the end that you would exhibit the highest fidelity to the rule of law and the rights of the human person.
One has to bring good character to this endeavor without which this is going to be a hopeless and unrewarding journey. One of the avowed objectives of legal education in Ghana and I believe in other jurisdictions, is to bring up and train people of good character and repute to assist society in Law-Governance. Section 3 of the Legal Profession Act says that a person is qualified for enrollment if that person satisfies the Council in respect of good character, and holds a qualifying certificate under the Legal Profession Act.
It also says that a person may be enrolled by the Council if it is satisfied as to his good character, is qualification to practice in Ghana or to practice in a country having an analogous system of law that renders the person suitable for enrollment, and that conditions prescribed by the Council in respect of the status or proficiency have been complied with by that person. I will not reckon a person to be of good character unless he has the virtues of honesty and integrity.
I have no difficulty in suggesting that the Legal Professions Act requires by analogy that faculties of law which have been recognized by it to train students in the academic discipline of law from which pool it may recruit persons for further training for the Qualifying Certificate Under the Legal Profession Act (QCL) and for enrollment on the roll of laws should only admit and train persons of good character. The ultimate aim is to train persons who will be trustworthy sources of legal counsel.
People who will are knowledgeable in the art of human and institutional relationships. People who will be clear headed philosophers of democratic governance to be effective within the institutional framework of public administration, banking, other private corporate services and indeed all aspects of our economy. We cannot continue to produce and put into circulation “client tenders” who are stolid and indifferent as to what they owe to the Republic of Ghana and to public affairs.
It is to this pool of academic lawyers you are being inducted to be trained today that the future generation of legal professionals will be chosen for training and enrolment as lawyers. It is from your generation of professional lawyers that the next generation of judges will be appointed to determine how independent and impartial the administration of justice will be in this country.
To have a good system of Law-Governance you need persons of good character as lawyers, you need lawyers who know the law, you need lawyers who think, you need lawyers who are honest and you need lawyers who the public believes are honest. A lawyer of good character must always act in accordance with his conscience of what is just and fair and must never relinquish his professional responsibility and discretion to anybody and this is the genesis of the concept of independence in a lawyer and I dare say in a judge.
I have been enamored by what Mr. Justice Blackburn said in 1866 about the obligation of an advocate to bear full responsibility for every course he adopts before a court and to any client which I should share with you. He said:
“It will be unprofessional for counsel to undertake the conduct of a cause giving up all discretion as to how he should conduct it….Few counsel, I hope, would accept a brief on the unworthy terms that he is simply to be the mouthpiece of his client.”
Mr. Justice Blackburn went on: “If counsel cannot induce his client to act on his advice, the proper course is to return his brief.”
The importance of such virtue of the integrity of freedom of action by a lawyer (and I dare say of a law student) is rooted in the fact that once the lawyer permits his decision to be influenced by one previously made by the client he absolves himself from his responsibility to the courts and he becomes no more than an arm of his client and his status as a fearless and independent champion of the rights of individuals will disappear completely.
A lawyer of good character and repute champions the law and the rights of individuals and not that of the executive or the legislature or any particular person for the time being his client. This university provides you the opportunity, within its academic freedom, to throw away bad habits and built good ones that will at the end of your study turn out broad and independent minded graduates for nation building.
Ghana needs the ultimate good product of the law who has the integrity of freedom of action to constitute the legal profession and to be the arbiter of disputes in the system of Law-Governance – a good judicial administration. It is such lawyers who when they become judges will be honest enough strive to comply with one author’s suggestion of what an impartial judge must strive for in the administration of justice:
“The mind they bring to the decision of issues cannot be a blank canvas but they should seek to alert themselves to, and so neutralize, any extraneous considerations which might bias, or of matter which might give rise to an appearance of bias, they must decline to make the decision in question.”
This is supposed to be a prescription for lawyers who are given the privilege to service society and their fellow citizens but I dare say that it is also a prescription for everybody who aspires to be law-trained and to be a gate keeper and moral conscious of the nation. I urge you as beginning students to cultivate good character and integrity so that when your time comes and you assume the mantle of leadership of both bar and bench there would not be found in your contemporaries legal personnel who would sell justice to the highest bidder.
You will in due time find an interrelation and interconnection in the different subjects of law you will be studying. The law subjects you will study in this beginning semester will lay the foundation for those you will study in the next semester until you complete the number of hours of study in the particular component. Constitutional law, and Ghana legal system will be a must for all categories of new entrants whether one is coming to the programme of study from the Senior Secondary School or as a matured student or from a previous degree in another area of academic study.
I have also found that in the first year you will also have a brush with the law of contract and the law of torts. These law courses are foundation courses for the academic study of law as they will expose you to the fundamental law of Ghana from which all the other laws you will be studying derive their validity, the legal system of Ghana which will include the system of laws we inherited from the United Kingdom at independence and the structure of the courts in the past and present, and the laws of contract and torts would expose you to the law of civil obligations.
Whatever one’s ultimate objective is for studying for the bachelor of laws degree I would urge each non-degree holding student to pay equal attention to the study of other inter disciplinary academic areas besides the study of law subjects included in the course structure.
The reason is simple, this degree course has a bias towards the study of law but it is also designed to produce graduates who are interdisciplinary and can integrate other areas of study or discipline. You cannot be interdisciplinary when the only in-depth academic learning you have undertaken is law. You would come to appreciate the roots of the law in other academic disciplines when you come to study jurisprudence in your latter years. Suffice it to assure you that my undergraduate courses in African and European history, the theory of political science and African politics in my first, year; contemporary African political systems and techniques of social research in political science in the second year have been and are still backbone in my training as a lawyer. Whenever I despair of the state of our nation today, I hear and recall vividly the voice of Mr. Drah, one of my political sciences lecturers, explaining how: “The politics of Africa is the politics of ethnic arithmetic”.
Your bachelor of laws course has been structured with the Legal Profession Act, 1960 (Act 32) in mind in case you decide after the completion of your academic study to pursue a professional study of the law for enrolment on the roll of laws in Ghana.
The Council is charged with the responsibility of making arrangements for the establishment of a system of legal education, for the selection of subjects in which those seeking to qualify as lawyers are to be examined, for the establishment of courses of instructions for the students and for affording opportunities for students to read and to obtain practical experience in the law, for regulating the admission of students to pursue courses of instruction leading to qualification as lawyers and for holding examinations as well as final qualifying examinations.
There is a minimum requirement of law subjects that must have been studied and passed by a candidate seeking to be admitted to the study of the QCL which used to be erroneously called QCL but which was really a one year intensive course for holders of academic degrees other than law before one embarked on the professional study leading to the award of the QCL which qualified one for enrolment as a lawyer on the roll of lawyers to practice as a lawyer or legal practitioner. With effect from January 1971 a person is not qualified for enrolment unless the person is a holder of a degree from a university approved by the Council –Section 4
I believe that at one point the General Legal Council farmed the professional law programme to the University of Ghana which was already running the bachelor of laws degree and it became necessary for the Legal Profession Act to be amended to make the possession of a University degree the minimum qualification for the professional course which was also being organized by the University. At the time I entered the University of Ghana in the 1972/73 academic year to read for a degree the University of Ghana conducted the two years of the professional law course on behalf of the General Legal Council even though the last year course was conducted at the Ghana School of Law in the afternoon to enable final year students to attend lectures after completing their attachments to institutions in the morning.
The professional examinations were conducted by the University of Ghana on behalf of the General Legal Council. At that time the University of Ghana was the only University in Ghana that run a bachelor of laws degree programme. After 1971 other degree holders were at liberty to undertake a one year programme in the minimum subjects which were a precondition for admission to the QCL programme or subscribe to a two year bachelor of laws degree programme before joining the QCL programme.
In my time entry into the professional law programme was automatic upon completion of the bachelor of laws degree from the University of Ghana because the course structure included the minimum subjects required under the Act that one had to pass before beginning the QCL. In your time there are several universities offering degree programmes leading to the bachelor of laws degree and the turnout per year is already so large that I am told the General Legal Council now conducts an examination and an interview to select from those with the minimum statutory requirement who may begin the professional law programme to qualify as lawyers.
Entry to the Ghana School of Law has thus become competitive. I am informed that the General Legal Council is working out a scheme to set up an Independent Examinations Board that will conduct the examinations for the QCL so as to free the Ghana School of Law and other institutions desirous of running courses for the QCL to train candidate who would then be examined by the Independent Examination Board. It is anticipated that the requirement to write an examination and an interview for selection to begin the QCL programme would then scrapped.
Holders of the bachelor of laws degree or its equivalent who have made the number of minimum law subjects to qualify for the QCL may then attend any law school of their choosing and write the examinations conducted by the Independent Examination Board until one makes the requisite number of subjects to qualify for the award of the QCL and enrolment on the roll of lawyers. Hopefully, therefore, by the time you may graduate from this faculty and decide to pursue the professional law programme you will not need to write any further examinations or attend any further interview. Much of this is in the future for you as beginning students in this academic programme. But it is important that you know of what lies ahead in case you choose to continue your studies to become professional lawyers.
As you embark of this journey of equipping yourselves with academic knowledge of the law for a degree it is important for you to take a keen interest and be committed to your learning goals and the guidance of your professors so you can obtain maximum benefits from the foundation courses you will be introduced to this semester. It is the foundation to build at this stage that is going to determine your ability to understand and master the intricacies of both the law and other academic disciplines that makes up your degree programme.
Every academic discipline has its own language and you will naturally be inducted into the language of the law, how to use the law library to find the law, what legal precedents are, their uses and how to distinguish them, the art of reading and understanding the law reports and cite cases, the court system and its hierarchies, the constitutional history of Ghana leading up to the 1992 Constitution, the sovereignty of the people and supremacy of the Constitution, fundamental human rights and how to vindicate them, the directive principles of state policy, the three coordinate branches of government and their interrelationship, checks and balances, independence and impartiality of the judiciary, the judicial power and its final repository and many others will occupy you in your constitutional law study.
For the law of contract and tort which I refer to as the law of civil obligations you will be exposed to what constitutes an agreement, their vitiation, third party rights, duty breach and resultant damage will constitute your burden in assimilating the law of negligence as part of civil obligations. In my time contract and tort were combined as one subject styled the law of civil obligations. My advice to you is to begin to learn how to reason and expand your horizon with the new language you would learn and to integrate what you will be taught with your experiential learning. Your aim should not be just to pass your exams at the end of the semester but to internalize the learning so as to make it useful in your life and your relationship with your neighbours.
A good beginning makes a good ending. I will therefore recommend to each beginning law student at this early stage to pursue his studies in the spirit of Mr. Justice Holmes who said that:
“Law is a business to which my life is devoted, and I should show less than devotion if I did not do what in me lies to improve it, and when I perceive what seems to me to be the ideal of its future, if I hesitated to point out and press toward it with all my heart.”
I cannot see how if you each commit yourselves from the beginning to making the study of the law your business and do all in your power to improve it you would not reap the good ending and Ghana be the better for it. I wish each of you well in your studies and a bright future in this endeavour.
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