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Manasseh Azure Awuni delivered a speech at a symposium organised by the Law Students Union of the University of Ghana Law School as part of the 43rd Law Week Celebration of the Union

MANASSEH’S FOLDER: Of integrity, lawyers and corruption in Ghana – Manasseh’s speech to law students

Written by Manasseh Azure Awuni/www.manassehazure.com

I have been asked to speak on the topic: “The Lawyer: A Key Player in Ensuring Integrity in Ghana’s Legal System”. However, I will want to alter the topic a little. I want to speak on “The Lawyer: A key player in ensuring integrity in Ghana.” I do not want to limit my presentation to the role of the lawyer in ensuring integrity to the legal system. My three decades on this side of planet earth has taught me that the role of the lawyer in ensuring integrity goes beyond the legal system.

If I asked you about one corrupt group of people whose corruption has sunk and still threatens to sink this nation deeper, I am sure you would begin to think about the usual suspects – the politicians. But politicians who are corrupt are just a collection of other corrupt professionals. Until recently when national service personnel started getting elected into parliament and getting ministerial appointments, all our politicians were professionals from different fields of human endeavour. And I can say that lawyers are one professional group that dominates in all the three arms of government.

On top of my head, I can say the Minister of Defence, Dr. Benjamin Kumbuor, is a Lawyer. The Minister of Environment and Science, Mahama Ayariga, is a lawyer. Minister for Employment and labour relations, Haruna Iddrisu, is a lawyer. The minister for Roads and Highways, Inusah Fuseini, is a lawyer. The Minister of Justice and Attorney-General is a lawyer, Marrietta Brew Appiah-Oppong, is a lawyer. The Minister for Gender and Social Protection, Nana Oye Lithur is a lawyer. The Minister for Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration, Hannah Tetteh, is a lawyer. The minister for Lands and Natural Resources, Nii Osa Mills, is a lawyer and former President of the Ghana Bar Association. There is no any single profession that has more representation on the ministerial list than lawyers. Two of the four Presidents in Ghana’s Fourth Republic have been lawyers.

Most of the influential parliamentarians on both sides of the house are lawyers. In the judiciary, almost all the judges were once lawyers. In effect, lawyers are a single professional body that that dominates the three arms of government – the executive, the legislature and the judiciary. So if our society appears irredeemably corrupt, no one can write a credible story of that corruption without the role of the lawyer.

Lawyers in the history of our nation were known to be selfless, patriotic and of high integrity. The foundation of the Gold Coast and independent Ghana was built on the sacrificial sweat of lawyers such as John Mensah Sarbah and others who saw the need to use their legal prowess to liberate their people. I am not sure J.B Danquah whose landmark case, In Re-Akoto, which has been immortalized in the legal education in Ghana took up the case because of money. These days, however, we seem to measure how successful a lawyer is based on their wealth.

I am an anti corruption journalist and I can tell you that lawyers are part of the reason corruption is thriving in this country. In recent times when corrupt individuals and companies get into trouble, lawyers are those who defend them. They do not only defend them in the court of law. It is fast becoming a norm to see lawyers playing the roles of public relations officers. Apart from issuing threats against the media and groups that stand up to fight such corrupt entities or individuals, some lawyers are prepared to lie to defend their clients. In so doing they sometimes find themselves having to defend the indefensible, and with legal jargons, some of them offer explanations that are alien to common sense and disrespectful to the conscience and reasoning of their audience.

I have a number of friends who are lawyers and sometimes when I talk to them, they tell me some of the rot that goes on in the legal system. That rot goes beyond the judges. Some lawyers do not only encourage the payment of bribes to judges but they also shortchange their clients when the money on the other side is bigger than what their clients have to offer. In order to secure judgment in their favour, some lawyers encourage their clients to lie, thereby making it difficult to dispel the notion that lawyers are liars. There is nothing wrong with defending or accepting to hold brief for even self-confessed criminals. But there is everything wrong with lying to set them free. For me, he who lies to defend a thief should never be left out if the roll call of thieves is conducted.

My dear friends, I have not come here to attack lawyers. I am only recounting what I hear from lawyers. Some of you may have heard it too. And some of you will soon witness it. The fact that you chose this topic for the symposium means there is a problem with integrity in the legal system, which we must address. And the fact that I am talking about lawyers does not mean my own profession is clean. I am aware journalists are among the most corrupt set of individuals in this country. What this means is that the so-called fourth estate of the realm, which is supposed to be watch dogs over the three arms of government is found wanting. And if the gamekeepers who are supposed to keep the wildlife safe become hunters, then the animals are in serious trouble. That is why Ghana has bled and continues to bleed so profusely. The focus this afternoon, however, is on lawyers and how they can help ensure integrity in Ghana.

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