Judges can do little when people conspire to dupe the state – Justice Torkonoo

There is very little judges can do when private citizens, with the active connivance of public servants, steal from the state through dubious claims, a Court of Appeal judge has said.

Justice Mrs Gertrude Torkonoo said as judges in a common law jurisdiction, Ghanaian judges are not supposed to take sides in matters before them.

Therefore, when state attorneys fail to defend the state against baseless claims, judges are unable to do much, she observed.

The state lost millions of dollars through default judgments and settlement claims in past few years under circumstances many believe were devious.

The state is currently prosecuting businessman Alfred Agbesi Woyome, whom it says fraudulently obtained a judgement debt award of 51 million Ghana cedis.

Similar settlement claims obtained by international firms, Waterville and Isofoton, were said to have been occasioned by sloppy representation by state attorneys.

In the Woyome case, investigation by the Economic and Organised Crimes Office revealed that he obtained a default judgment after the Attorney-General’s department failed to file a defence to his claims.

Judges have been asked to protect the state by refusing to give default judgment in cases where state attorneys deliberately fail to defend the state.

But speaking on the subject on Joy FM’s Super Morning Show Tuesday, Mrs. Torkonoo said, “When you have people who are so determined to fleece the state that they will phrase contracts to achieve that, with support from public officers, there is virtually nothing the judge can do,” she said.

The Court of Appeal judge received praise two years ago for rejecting an invitation by a state attorney to grant a judgment debt award to a private company, Africa Automobile , which was claiming an amount of 14 million from the state.

In that case, she stated that, “My understanding of my role as a judge is that I am required to give judgment on the evidence laid before me and not as directed by the parties. I have a duty to implement the ethic of competence, which requires adjudication based on evaluation of evidence. Instead of entering judgment as submitted by the State, I have chosen to examine the evidence and give my judgment based on the evidence.”

The Supreme Court praised her highly for her vigilance in the case. She was then a High Court judge.

This notwithstanding, Mrs. Torkonoo said there is a limit to which a judge can intervene in a case before him or her.

She said judges are required to adjudicate cases based only on the facts before them and the law.

So if parties come before a judge and attorneys who appear on behalf of the state choose to connive with those who have brought claims against the state, there is little the judge can do.

But it is not all gloom and doom, she said.
In recent times, state attorneys, she said, come to court with monitoring officers who assess their work.

The quality of state representation in court, the judge said, has seen marked improvement.

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