Leaders of the social media movement, #fixthecountry, walked out of court with a theoretical victory and a practical defeat in their quest to embark on a public demonstration.
They got what they wanted but did not get what they really, really wanted.
They wanted the Supreme Court to say the High Court made a mistake in granting that May 6 order that effectively quashed their planned May 9 protest. And yes, it was a mistake, the panel of judges agreed.
But they really, really wanted the Supreme Court to restrain the Ghana Police Service from interfering should they set a new date for the intended demonstration. No, we cannot, the bench effectively said.
And so, while the court gave the green light for the campaigners to go ahead and plan another protest, they would do, suspecting the police has a red light ready to shove it in their faces – for red means stop.
Yellow means get ready. And that is the colour of the suit brought by the Attorney-General who has signalled that the campaigners should get ready for another legal challenge to any protest.
He has filed a suit to be heard on June 14.
The Supreme Court gave a green light, the A-G is holding the amber, and the police are keeping a red light. So, effectively, the campaigners won a theoretical victory but suffered a practical defeat.
Slouched inside his seat at the Supreme Court, Attorney-General Godfred Dame rubbed his chin and would later play with his phone like a man under no pressure.
The court, seating a large crow of lawyers–-one of them Justice Srem Sai, legal counsel for the organisers–rose to address Justice Yaw Appau, who was flanked by two other Supreme Court judges.
Srem Sai had been unhappy since May 6 when the High Court granted a 10-day injunction against his clients’ intended demonstration. Without notifying the protesters, the police had, on May 6, secured an order from the High Court to stop the demonstration. The police explained that the president had put Covid-19 restrictions against public gatherings and so the demonstration was a no-no.
Lawyers call that order ex-parte, which should have expired after 10 days. But in the ruling, the High Court added that the organisers were restrained indefinitely from demonstrating “until such a time that the appropriate authority would lift the ban on public gathering.”
That authority is the president, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, who returned last Saturday to Accra from a massive funeral of a beloved party man, Sir John.
The legal counsel for the protesters said a High Court cannot grant such an ex-parte order that indefinitely barred them from protesting. Srem Sai wanted the Supreme Court judges to say this was wrong.
Justice Yaw Appau told the lawyer that order by the High Court had expired because it was for 10 days. “There is nothing to quash,” he tried to get the lawyer to understand.
“There is no order for us to quash,” the judge who makes a living partly by quashing expressed his difficulty in quashing something that no longer existed.
“That order died a natural death and has long been buried,” the judge tried a more animated and graphic explanation in the hope that the lawyer could much more easily grasp.
Godfred Dame gesticulated what the judge articulated, signalling that indeed there was nothing for the bench of experienced quashers to quash.
“The law is clear that the injunction should last past 10 days. There is nothing restraining you, so what is your problem?” Justice Appau raised his voice as Srem Sai lowered his in some sort of a tactical retreat.
But Srem Sai persisted, explaining that the error by the High Court portends danger because if, some day, another judge could grant an ex-parte order that generally has a short life span but is used to perpetually stop a person from doing something.
His persistence paid off. The judges sprang out of their large, brown-leathered seats, helped by court clerks eager to help the judge avoid any effort involved in getting out of a chair.
They retreated to mull over the motion and the court broke up into light-hearted conversations regulated by class. Lawyers talked to lawyers, clerks to clerks, journos to journos, and activists to activists–a Karl Marx class system in display.
After some time, Justice Appau reemerged with the other judges, wearing the look associated with Judgment Day. They re-arranged themselves in their seats and read out the judgement.
He said the first request had been granted. The High court erred. On the second request, he said the Supreme Court could not stop the police from trying to possibly stop them again.
— Eugene O’Brien (@eclocks23) June 5, 2021
And so no court stands in the way of the #fixthecountry protest organisers. They can go ahead and demonstrate by notifying the police.
In theory, the streets are there. In practice, the police are waiting.
To go to court again.
You can reach the writer of this story, Edwin Appiah, via email at [email protected]. You can follow him on @edwinologyLB