The Bond of 1844 signed by Commander H. Hill with the local Fanti Chiefs of Cape Coast was a document that acknowledged the power and jurisdiction which had been de facto exercised in the territories adjacent to the British forts and settlements. It was a declaration to the effect that ’the first objects of the law are the protection of individuals and property and that human sacrifices, pan-yarring or the kidnapping of hostages for debt and other barbarous customs are abominations and contrary to law.
It was further agreed that serious crimes should be tried by the Queen’s Judicial Officers sitting with the chiefs thereby moulding the customs of the country into the general principles of British Law.
In 1853, the Supreme Court Ordinance was passed establishing the Supreme Court of Her Majesty’s forts and settlements on the Gold Coast, which had in 1850 been severed from Sierra Leone and given its own governor in the person of Governor Hill. However, in 1866 by a commission dated 19th February, the Charter of 1850 was revoked and the Gold Coast together with Sierra Leone, Lagos and Gambia were created under "the Governor of four West African Settlements".
The existing Gold Coast ordinances were preserved and so was the Legislative Council. The Executive Council ceased to exist and the Supreme Court was also abolished in 1866 and replaced by "the Court of Civil and Criminal Justice presided over by a Chief Magistrate.
The Order in Council of 1856 remained unrevoked and the Judicial Assessor and the other Magistrates continued to exercise Jurisdiction outside the forts. The Supreme Court Ordinance of 1876 re-established the Supreme Court after its abolition in 1866. It constituted it into the Supreme Court of Judicature for the Gold Coast colony.
The court was constituted of the Chief Justice and not more than four Puisne Judges and it was provided that the full court (consisting the Chief Justice and one or two Puisne Judges) should be a Court of Appeal with sittings in Accra and Lagos. The Ordinance further provided that District Commissioners should be ex-officio Commissioners of the Supreme Court exercising the powers of a Judge of the Supreme Court within their own district.
The Ordinance abolished the post of a Judicial Assessor. Provisions of appeals from the Supreme Court to the Privy Council were contained in an Order in Council made in 1877.
The Native Courts (Colony) Ordinance 1944 (Number 22) marked a revolutionary change. This Ordinance which followed the Blackall Committee of 1943 gave the Governor power to set up entirely new courts and to appoint their members instead of the old customary law tribunals. A new land court was created to hear appeals from native court decisions in land cases.
On 5th May 1954, the major part of the Gold Coast (constitution) Order in Council, 1954 (S.I.1954 Number 551) came into opera¬tion. A Judicial Service Commission was set up consisting of the Chief Justice and two other judges, the Attorney General and the Chairman of the Public Service Commission.
The Ghana (Constitution) Order in Council, 1957 (S.I.1957 Number 227, L. N.47) the main provision of which came into force on 6th March 1957 embodied the new constitution of Independent Ghana, apart from the Legislative powers contained in the first schedule to the Independence Act. The Court (Amendment) Ordinance 1957 (Number 17 S.2) divided the Supreme Court into the High Court of Justice and the Court of Appeal with effect from 6th 3arch 1957. Appeals to the West African Court of Appeal (W.A.C.A) were abolished, but Jurisdiction of the Privy Council continued.
In an attempt to overcome shortage of High Court Judges, the Office of the Commissioner of Assizes and Civil Pleas was created in 1958 but abolished in 1960. By the Constitution (Amendment) Act 1959 (Number 7) the Judicial Service Commission was dissolved. Thereafter all judges of the Supreme Court and Appeal Commissioners were appointed on the advice of the Prime Minister.
The Constitution of the First Republic (1960) was passed by the Constituent Assembly on 29th June, 1959 and came into force on 1st July 1960. The Queen acting through the Governor General was resplaced as Head of State, the President became the Head of State, the Holder of Executive power. Article 40 of the Constitution of 1960 (C. A. 9) created the inferior courts consisting of Circuit, District, Juvenile and Local Courts. Article 42 (1) declared the Supreme Court to be the final Court of Appeal, the appellate Jurisdiction of the West African Court of Appeal and the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council having been abolished.
By a proclamation dated 26th February, 1966, the Constitution of the First Republic 1960 was suspended and the National Liberation Council was established with powers to administer the country. Decrees replaced Acts but the ordinary laws in the country continued in operation as well as the Public Services and other institutions.
The Court Decree 1966 (NLCD 84) provided among others Supreme Court of Judicature consisting of the Court of Appeal and the High Court as the Supreme Court. Circuit Courts, District Courts Grade I and II such others as inferior courts as provided by the law. Appointments to Grade II were filled mainly by non-lawyers while Grade I were strictly packed with lawyers.
The Decree also established Juvenile Courts. Article 102(4) of the 1996 Constitution of the 2nd Republic made provision for a Supreme Court of Ghana, the Court of Appeal and the High Court of Justice as constituting one Superior Courts of Judicature and other inferior and traditional courts as Parliament may by law establish. Only lawyers of not less than fifteen years were eligible to be appointed to the Supreme Court Lawyers, not less than twelve years to the Court of Appeal and Lawyers not less than ten years to the High Court of Justice.
The National Redemption Council (Establishment) proclamation 1972 suspended the 1969 Constitution. Offices of the President, Prime Minister and Leader of Opposition were abolished and the National Assembly dissolved; but the Public Services and the Public Services Commission as well as other National Institutions were allowed to continue until a decree provided the contrary.
Paragraph 4 retained the courts, the Judicial Service, the Judicial Council and the Rules of Court Committee until rectified by subsequent decrees. (Courts Amendment) Number 2 Decree 1972 (NRCD 137) also provided for a Superior Court of Judicature made up of the Supreme Court as was established by Parliament.
Article 114 (1) of the Third Republican constitution made the following provision "The Judicial Power of Ghana shall be vested in the Judiciary of which the Chief Justice shall be the Head and accordingly, no organ or agency of the Executive or the Legislature shall be given any final Judicial Power".
The Constitution also provided for a Superior Court of Judicature made up of the Supreme Court, Court of Appeal and the High Court of Justice and other Inferior Courts as was estab lished by parliament.
The Provisional National Defense (Establishment) Council proclamation of 1981 suspended the 1979 constitution of the third Republic. The PNDC government however made fundamental charges in the court system with the introduction of the Public Tribunals into the country in 1982 as seen in the Public Tribunal law, 1982 (PNDC24) and Public Tribunals law 1884 (PNDC 78) as amended by the Public Tribunals (Amendment) law 1985 (PNDCL108) and the Public Tribunals (Amendment) law 1989 (PNDCL213).
On the 7th of January 1993, the 1992 Constitution of the Republic of Ghana gave birth to the Fourth Republic. The 1992 Constitution however, abolished all the public tribunals and enacted the Regional Tribunal whose Chairman was equated to the High Court Judge.
The enactment of Act 459 established the circuit tribunal and vested it with the entire criminal jurisdiction of the circuit court. With this enactment the circuit court now had only civil jurisdiction. Act 459 also established the community tribunal which replaced the district courts grades I and II. However even before it became fully operational Act 459 was amended by Act 464 which empowered the circuit court to have and exercise the jurisdiction of the circuit tribunal.
Similarly it also empowered the district court grade I in existence immediately before the coming into force of Act 459 to have and exercise the jurisdiction of the community tribunals under sections 47 and 48 of Act 459. Specialized divisions of the district court grade I namely the motor courts, juvenile courts and family courts still continued in existence as specialized divisions of the community tribunals or district courts under the new system. In effect then, the 1992 Constitution and Act 459 and its amendment Act 464 merged the courts and tribunals under one system headed by the Chief Justice.
The amendment of the courts Act 2002 (Act 620) abolished the community and circuit tribunals and re-established the Circuit and the District Courts. Currently the structure of the courts of Ghana are the Supreme Court, Court of Appeal and the High Court, forming the Superior Courts whiles the Lower Courts comprise the Circuit and District Courts.
Goodwill Message from the Honourable Lady Chief Justice of the Republic of Ghana - Mrs Justice Georgina Wood,( Osg)
I am extremely happy to share these few thoughts with Honourable members of the Bench and Staff of the Judicial Service at the commencement of this 50th Legal Year.
This is indeed a very special Legal Year as it commemorates the Jubilee year of the Judicial Service in post-independence Ghana. Jubilee signifies hope, restoration and renewal. It is a year in which we intend to expand the initiatives for change that have already began within the Judicial Service.
In his welcome address delivered on the occasion of the visit of HRH the Duchess of Kent to the Supreme Court on the 5th of March 1957, the then Chief Justice Sir Arku Korsah stated as follows;
"We are deeply conscious of the obligations which devolve on us as the guardians of the rights and liberties of the people of Ghana. We therefore, rededi-cate ourselves to the cause of justice, and promise to observe and strictly enforce obedience to the rule of law in consonance with basic human rights, the surest safeguard of a free and independent peo¬ple; thus the courts of this country will con¬tinue to guarantee the security, peace, tranquillity and happiness of this country."
This 50 year- old benchmark is a standard that we as members of the Judicial Service still aspire to follow. In this Jubilee year therefore, we re-dedicate ourselves to upholding the rule of law and promoting democracy and good governance.
As a service delivery institution, we are fully aware that the demand on us as the guardians of the rule of law has not waned over time. Indeed, following the pursuit of democratic governance in Ghana, an even greater burden has been placed on us to maintain a higher standard of efficiency, as the good people of Ghana have become acutely aware of their rights and freedoms as provided under the 1992 Constitution.
The sub-theme that I have chosen for this Legal Year 2007 - 2008 is
Access to Justice- Strengthening
Judicial Integrity and Capability
Through Judicial Education
Our collective and re-dedicated will to deliver equitable justice to all, fuelled by a passion for judicial integrity and hard work, should enable us to discharge our constitutional mandate without too much difficulty.
On this historic and momentous occasion therefore, I wish you all a blessed 50th Legal Year. May Almighty God protect, strengthen and guide each one of us. May He grant us wisdom, insight and knowledge to steer the affairs of this noble institution to the best of our abilities.
I extend my very best wishes to you and your families, without whose support and assistance our successes indeed would have been limited.
I wish you all a peaceful and fruitful year.