Legal Reasoning Box
In life, generally, we are often encouraged to think outside the box. Whatever that means, the position in the murky world of legal of reasoning is different. In legal reasoning, one is not to reason outside the box unless she completely exhausts the space within the box. In other words, the creation of a new legal rule or a legal fiction should be the last resort in resolving legal problems.
In Amidu v A-G, Waterville & Woyome (No. 2), the Supreme Court (the “Court”), constituted by a single Justice of the Court, seems to have created a new legal rule, a kind of legal fiction. The learned Justice admitted this when he cited that hallowed passage in Tuffour v A-G as authority for his liberal interpretation of Article 2 of the Constitution. The new rule may be stated as follows:
The right to enforce the Constitution includes the right to enforce an order of the Court enforcing a provision of the Constitution.
This rule is so so that a person who has the right to invoke the enforcement jurisdiction of the Court on a particular issue is deemed as also having the right to personally enforce the execution of the order made by the Court pursuant to the enforcement jurisdiction.
In my previous article on this issue, I explained that the Court has, without more, created a qui tam jurisdiction in the Republic. In this article, I make 2 other claims. The first is that the Court, constituted by a single Justice of the Court, has no jurisdiction to interpret Article 2 of the Constitution. My second claim is that, even if the Court did have jurisdiction, there was no need for it to create that new legal rule. For want of space, however, I will limit this discussion to the second claim, not least because I think it is also the most difficult of the 2 claims.
Constitution versus Court Orders
Hon Amidu’s action was hinged on Article 2 of the Constitution. Article 2 deals with enforcement of the Constitution. This means that a person may rely on Article 2 to commence an action for the enforcement of “a provision of this Constitution.” Article 2, at least on the face of it, does not deal with the enforcement of the Court’s orders. There are 2 reasons why Article 2 does not and may not be a basis for enforcing the Court’s order.
The first is that there is a difference between the provisions of the Constitution, on one hand, and the Court’s orders, on the other. Even though the Court’s Article 2 order is always consequent upon its interpretation or application of the provision of the Constitution, the enforcement of those orders involves entirely different consideration, both substantive and procedural, than the factors that the Court considers when it is called upon to enforce a provision of the Constitution.
The second reason is that the Court, when exercising its enforcement jurisdiction, has, itself, the power to order an appropriate person (including the President) to enforce its orders. Therefore, a proper exercise of the Court’s enforcement power should not give rise to a situation where (as here) a new legal rule would have to be created constituting a private person into a public or quasi-public official just to get the Court’s order enforced. In other words, when the Court properly exercises its enforcement powers, the order it gives, without more, becomes a binding legal duty on a person already clothed with public power.
Duty to Enforce
This legal duty, too, comes with at least 3 cardinal incidents: The first incident is that the duty is public (rather than private) in nature. This derives from the fact that a constitutional matter is a public matter; and, conceptually, cannot give birth to an order directed at or enforceable by a private person. The duty to enforce such an order, naturally, could only be performed by a public officer, not a private person.
The second incident of the duty is that the public officer has no discretion in her performance of the duty. This derives from the principle that a public official has no discretion when directed by a court of competent jurisdiction to perform a public function. Indeed, such a public official is bound to perform the duty strictly, precisely and exactly in accordance with the terms of the Court’s order, even if the order is void or voidable.
The third (and last) incident of the duty is that refusal by the public officer (even if that officer is the President) to obey or carry it out precisely and exactly in the terms of the Court’s order constitutes a high crime under the Constitution.
The Substantive Order
From the above, it may be pretty obvious that everything depends on the nature and terms of the Court order in question. The issue, then, is: what is the nature of the Court’s order in the substantive case, that is, the case whose judgement Hon. Amidu now seeks to enforce? In the substantive case, the Court made 3 declarations and only one order. The order states as follows:
“An order directed at the 3rd Defendant [Mr. Woyome] to refund to the Republic of Ghana all sums of money paid to him upon or as a result of the unconstitutional conduct of the 1st Respondent, therein 1st Defendant [the Attorney-General], in purported pursuance of the said inoperative Agreement dated 26 April 2006.”
Indeed, there is nothing wrong with this order until one begins to realise (as we all now have) that the order is directed at the judgment-debtor to pay; and that there is no specific or precise order directed at any public officer to enforce payment. This deficiency (as to “who” should enforce), in itself, is not fatal to the course – the Attorney-General is not without a duty to enforce payment on the ground only that the Court did not expressly say so. This is because (and as Hohfeldian correlatives tell us): to every legal duty there is a correlative legal right and vice versa. Therefore, a duty on a judgement-debtor to pay creates a concomitant right in the judgement-creditor to enforcement payment.
In respect of time of payment, too, lack of express timelines does not mean that the payment may be made at the behest of the judgement-debtor. This is because, one may, again, recall that where (as here) time is of the essence and there is no time given, reasonable time is the time which will apply. Going forward, one may say that the questions of “who” bears the duty and “when” to perform the duty are not unanswered. Indeed, the Attorney-General (a public officer) is under a duty to collect the monies from the judgement-debtor for the Republic within a reasonable time.
How to Enforce
This leaves us with the question of “how” to perform the duty. And this is exactly where Order 46 of CI 47 comes in. The relevant part of the Order says that:
“… where a person has obtained a judgment or order for the payment of money by some other person, hereinafter referred to as “the judgment debtor”, the Court may, on all application made ex-parte by the person entitled to enforce the judgment or order, order the judgment debtor to attend before the Court and be orally examined on the questions …”
There is no doubt that “the person entitled to enforce the judgment or order” on behalf of the Republic here is the Attorney-General or another public officer acting on her advice or directive. Indeed, there are more than one ways by which the Attorney-General may perform this duty; and there is some evidence that the Attorney-General has been using some collection methods.
However, it appears (and Hon Amidu deposes so before the Court) that the Attorney-General has, either unwilling or unable, failed to enforce the Courts orders, at least, in the manner that Hon Amidu expects her to. Indeed, if it is the view of Hon Amidu or another citizen that Order 46 is the best or, even, the only method of enforcing payment, the existing legal regime is not silent on “how” to get the Attorney-General or another public officer to use that method. Particularly, the Civil procedure rules allows a party to:
“upon the discovery of new and important matter or evidence which, after the exercise of due diligence, was not within that person’s knowledge or could not be produced by that person at the time when the judgment was given or the order made, or on account of some mistake or error apparent on the face of the record, or for any other sufficient reason, apply for a review of the judgment or order.”
An application under this rule allows the Court to review and revise its previous order and to make new orders to give proper effect and meaning to its judgement. This rule therefore offers an avenue for the Court to make, if it so wishes, specific orders directed at the Attorney-General, including an order to her to adopt the Order 46 method to enforcing payment.
If the Court does so, the Attorney-General would, as it were, be torn between the choices of committing high crime or obeying the Court’s order. This, no doubt, would have delivered the same result of getting the judgement enforced by the Order 46 methodology without necessarily creating a new rule, which in turn puts the Court’s ruling at war with well-established jurisdictional and jurisprudential positions.
Outside the Box
It seems obvious, therefore, that the Court has absolutely no reason to create a new rule to solve a problem for which a solution already exists at law. In other words, the Court has not exhausted the space within the box before venturing into creating the new legal rule; and, most importantly, doing so without being certain of its jurisdiction.