Private legal practitioner, Ace Kojo Annan Ankomah has advised Parliament to consider a Contempt of Court Act that defines contempt in a way that is accepted by the generality of the population.

According to Mr. Ankomah, this will help maintain the balance between the right of free speech and commentary on court proceedings.

?There is the need to quickly consider a contempt of court act that first defines contempt in such a way that we all accept socially, to the extent that we all agree on something and also prescribe punishment for it? it will seek to maintain balance between the right of free speech and commentary on court proceedings,? he stated.

Mr Ankomah?s comments come in the wake of the jailing of the editor of the Daily Searchlight newspaper, Ken Kuranchie on the charge of criminal contempt. 

In a recent post, Mr Annan argued: ?Article 19(12) of the Constitution recognises the power of superior courts to punish ?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.? This should be read with article 126(2) which provides that the superior courts ?shall have the power to commit for contempt of themselves.?

Thus, unlike Contempt of Parliament which is expressly defined by article 122, there is no constitutional definition of ?contempt of court?. Thus the current definitions are based on the ?received? common law, which classifies contempt into (i) civil contempt conduct (involving a breach of a court order) and criminal contempt (refers generally to other conduct which interferes with the due administration of justice). 

The latter classification is also divided into (a) contempt in facie curiae (i.e. contempt in the face of the court) and (b) contempt ex facie curiae (i.e. words spoken/published, or acts done outside the court, intended or likely to interfere with/obstruct the fair administration of justice.) And the bounds of what constitutes contempt were considerably expanded in the case of Republic v. Mensa Bonsu, ex parte AG, to include comments made even AFTER the court has passed judgment, and includes the statement to the effect that even truth is not a defence to a charge of contempt of court.

Worse, the sky is literally the limit, with respect to the punishment for contempt, so that a contemnor could be sentenced to anything from a caution, bond to be of good behaviour, a fine, and worse, imprisonment.?

Speaking on the Citi Breakfast Show, Mr. Ankomah hinted: ?Truth is not a defence to contempt of court. As long as the judge takes exception to the language used? if the court feels that the language is offensive; the judge who feels offended by your publication determines whether language used is offensive? It is part of the court?s makeup that it is able to punish people who are in contempt of it.?

He further advised all Ghanaians to ensure that, ?till Parliament steps to the plate, let your criticism of the court be measured and tempered.?

Source: Citifmonline

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