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Tribute to Justice Cecilia Koranteng-Addow - The Problems With Signature

The Problems With Signature

JUSTICE Koranteng-Addow had issues with the signature on the warrant of commitment to prison. She accordingly, set out as follows: I concede that the law forbids me to supervise the special court even though inferior to this Court. However, it must be proved first that the matter before the court is a matter upon which the special court had adjudicated or purported to have adjudicated, and that this warrant was issued pursuant to the trial... The warrant of commitment must be a legal one. It must show on the face of it, the right to detain... If the person had no jurisdiction to order the detention then that paper cannot justify the detention. That question can only be determined if the identity of the person who issued it is shown.... In all my endeavour I have not succeeded in finding a single case in which the person who signed the order or warrant is not known or identified [p.572]. The copy of the warrant I have been shown is No. 83. It bears a purported stamp of the A.F.R.C. I have not been shown an undisputed A.F.R.C. stamp to compare this with.

It is necessary therefore that the status of the person who signed the warrant must be shown. There must be evidence by which to determine whether the person who signed it was a member of the court or a person competent to issue the warrant...The only thing which makes a warrant genuine is the signature of the person competent to issue it. This one bears the signature of an unknown person, a signature which is not decipherable. It bears a mere scrawl, which has not been identified either by the author or any person familiar with it...or any person entitled to sign; it cannot be a signature for the purpose of validity of a warrant of a commitment. Again and again I adjourned this matter to wait for information which would enable me to perform my judicial function, but was denied this information... There must be somebody who could have sworn that this scrawl on the warrant is the signature of AB and that AB was a private or sergeant or lieutenant and a member of the A.F.R.C. Special Court...How do I know it was signed by the person who was supposed to sign?

Surely if it were signed by an orderly in the office of the A.F.R.C., it would not be a genuine document of the special court... A man's signature is not something you can take judicial notice of. So far as I am concerned, this warrant is an unsigned document. It being unsigned, I am not satisfied it is a genuine act of the A.F.R.C. By this I am by no means challenging the decision or order or act of the A.F.R.C. I am saying that it has not been established that this warrant was issued by the A.F.R.C. Special Court.... The circumstances recounted by the applicant in his affidavit show that he had been taken to the Ussher Fort Prisons with another person with a view to being released. The other person was released. It was not until 23 October 1979 when the warrant of commitment was sent to the prisons even though it is dated 8 June, when the court had not even been set up...

When all these matters are considered, they cast great suspicion on the authenticity of the warrant... The transitional provisions and A.F.R.C.D. 3. s.2(5)...do not diminish in any way the weight of the burden to be established by a person who deprives another of his liberty; ...until these factual matters have been established. The justification pleaded is that this is a judicial act of the A.F.R.C...The best proof would be the order convicting him. I cannot infer this from the disputed warrant of commitment... the respondents ought to have done more than merely producing a copy of the warrant of commitment with an indecipherable signature. The affidavit in opposition more or less reiterated what had been stated in the return and deposed that the matters on which the applicant relied were not within the knowledge of the deponent so he could not answer them...

It was submitted that the affidavit and report lack particularity and fails to show the ground of the detention, (Ex parte Braimah)...As explained by [Counsel] Nana Akufo-Addo, the attempt made by the respondents to explain the detention does not constitute an acceptable order under the law, and therefore there is no challenge to the matters contained in the affidavits sworn to on behalf of the applicant. ...But a court is not bound to order a prisoner to be discharged merely on the ground of irregularity... In this case, all the court would be satisfied with is whether or not there was a conviction... I say this knowing fully well that I am dealing with the liberty of the subject, but I am also administering law and justice, and I must bow to the Constitution of the land of which the transitional provisions are part, and the law of this land from which A.F.R.C.D. 3 is not separate[p.580]. Some statements were made from the Bar by the senior state attorney that Flight-Lieutenant Ben Odoi and another were being contacted to swear to an affidavit about the trial.

I do not know what they would have said, but suffice it to say that, that statement does not help... The respondents would have done better than merely waving before the court the warrant of commitment like a magic wand and expecting it to do the trick... Since the allegations of the applicant stand unchallenged, I am bound to accept and uphold them... If the applicant were tried on 8 June 1979 and the warrant issued the same day, then one wonders why it was not delivered until the A.F.R.C. had gone out of power... The detention is without a just cause and it is therefore unlawful... I would like to close this judgment with the opening words of Lord Halsbury L.C. in his speech in the case of Cox v. Hakes (1890) 15 App. Cas. 506 at p. 514, H.L.:

“For a period extending as far back as our legal history, the writ of habeas corpus has been regarded as one of the most important safeguards of the liberty of the subject. If upon the return to that writ it was adjudged that no legal ground was made to appear justifying detention, the consequence was immediate release from custody.” [p.583] There is no justification for the detention of the applicant. He is therefore entitled to immediate discharge. He must be released and set free forthwith.

The Final Word

In this Tribute to JUSTICE Cecilia Koranteng-Addow, we had sought to advise that in whichever capacity we find ourselves, appending our consenting signature to any document, must not be deemed a jolly-ride. It seems clear that the defence of non est factum, is unavailable for the reckless or the careless. As a notable German saying goes- trust is good but control is indeed, always better.




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