Courts Of Ghana
What is the hierarchical structure of Courts of Ghana and what is the jurisdiction of each court? This overview attempts to answer these basic questions by reference to the Ghanaian Constitution and the Courts Act. It identifies the courts as the Supreme Court, the Courts of Appeal, the High Courts, the Regional Tribunals, the Circuit Courts, District Court, Juvenile Court; National and Regional Houses of Chiefs and Traditional Councils.
Historical Notes on the Judicial Service of Ghana
--------- The following Historical Notes are taken from the Brochure of the Judicial Service prepared for the 54th Legal Year service held at The Catheral Church of the Most Holy Trinity, Accra.. While no special permission was obtained for the inclusion of this text on this site, it is hoped that the fact that the publication had been put in the public domain as part of the Legal Year service will suffice as 'reasonable acknowledgement of republication'------------
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 of the then Gold Coast (now Ghana). 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, panyarring (beheading of people) or the kidnapping of hostages for debt and other ... customs are .... contrary to law. It was further agreed that serious crimes should be tried by the (British) Queen's Judicial Officers sitting with the chiefs thereby moulding the customs of the country in 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 Govenor Hill. However in 1866 by a commission dated 19th February, the Charter of 1850 was revoked and the Gold Coast together with Seirra Leone, Lagos and Gambia were created under "the Govenor of Gour West African Settlements".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 abolished in 1866 and replaced by the "the Court of Civil and Criminal Justice presided over by a Chief Magistrate".
The Order of Council of 1856 remained unrevoked and the Judicial Assessor and the other Magistrates continued to exercise jurisdiction outside the forts. The Supreme Court Ordinace of 1876 re-established the Supreme Court after its abolition in 1866. The 1876 Ordinance constituted the Supreme Court of Judicature for the Gold Coast colony. The Court was constituted of the Chief Justice and not omore than four Puisine Judges and it was provided that the full court (consisting of the Chief Justice and one or two Puisine Judges ) should be a Court of Appeal with sittings in Accra and Lagos. 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) gave the Govenor poer to set up new courts and appoint their members. 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 came into force and saw the setting up of the Judicial Service Commission consisting of the Chief Justice, two other judges, the Attorney General and the Chairman of the Public Services Commission.
The Ghana (Constitution) Order in Council, 1957 embodied the constitution of Ghana. The Court (Amendment) Ordinance 1957 divided the Supreme Court into the High Court of Justice and the Court of Appeal. Appeals to the West African Court of Appeal (W.A.C.A) were abolished but jurisdiction of the Privy Council continued.
Article 40 of the 1960 Constitution (C. A. 9) created the inferior courts consisting of the Circuit, District and Local Courts. Article 42 (1) declared the Supreme Court to be the final Court of appeal and abolished the appelate jurisdictions of the WACA and the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council.
Following the suspension of the 1960 Constitution by the National Liberation Council, the Courts Decree 1966 provided inter alia for the Superior Court of Judicature consisting of the Court of Appeal and the High Court. The Decree also provided for Lower Courts or Inferior Courts, namely: Circuit, District Courts Grade I and II.
The Supreme Court was reinstaed as the highest court of the land by Article 102 (4) of the 1969 Constition of the 2nd Republic.
In January 1972 the Second Republic was overthrown. The Courts Amendment Number 2 Decreee of 1972 (NRCD 137) retained the structure of the superior courts.
The turbulent history of the courts of Ghana is detailed in the excellent work of Mr. Justice Brobbey, Justice of the Supreme Court of Ghana
Applicable law under the 4th Republic
The structure of the Judiciary of Ghana is found in chapter eleven of the Constitution of the Republic of Ghana, 1992 (to be referred here as 1992 Const, the Constitution or the 1992 Constitution). The 1992 Constitution is and remains the primary source of law in the country. This is enhanced by the Courts Act, 1993 (Act 459) which was enacted "to incorporate into the law relating to the courts, the provisions of ... the Constitution; to provide for the jurisdiction of Regional Tribunals; to establish lower courts and tribunals, provide for their composition ...........". Act 459 was amended on 13th April 2002 by Act 620 and on 1st November 2004 by Act 674. The Judiciary, according to Article 126 of the 1992 Constitution, consists of the Superior Courts of Judicature and lower courts or tribunals as Parliament may by law establish.
The Courts of Ghana
The Superior Courts whose mandate and composition are outlined in the Constitution are the Supreme Court, Court of Appeal, High Court and Regional Tribunal. Their jurisdiction and composition are outlined below.
The Supreme Court
→ (1992 Const: Arts 128 - 135) → (Act 459; ss 1 - 9)
The Supreme Court is the final court of appeal in Ghana and has jurisdiction in all civil and criminal matters. It also has exclusive original jurisdiction in all matters relating to the enforcement or interpretation of the Constitution and matters relating to Parliament or any other body exceeding its powers, or acting ultra vires, in the making of enactment. It further has exclusive jurisdiction whether an official document may not be produced before the courts because its production may be prejudicial to the security of the state. The Supreme Court hears appeals from the Court of Appeal, the High Court (in relation to high treason or treason), the Judicial Committee of the National House of Chiefs and exercises supervisory jurisdiction over all courts and adjudicating authorities. Finally, it also serves, on referral from the President of Ghana as the final appellate court of mercy, irrespective of the court imposing the sanction for an offence or conviction.
The Supreme Court is to be constituted by the Chief Justice (CJ) and no less than 9 other Justices of the Supreme Court (JSC). JSC’s are appointed from lawyers of no less than 15 years standing and are of high moral character and proven integrity.
Justices of the Supreme Court are:
Georgina T. Wood (Mrs), Chief Justice
W. A. Atugubah
S. A. B. Akuffo (Ms)
S. A. Brobbey
Prof. S. K. Date-Bah
J. J. Ansah
S. O. Adinyira (Mrs)
R. C. Owusu
J. V. M. Dotse
B. T. Aryeetey
N. S. Gbadegbe
V. Akoto-Bamfo (Mrs)
The Supreme Court is located in Accra in the Supreme Court building.
The Court of Appeal
→ (1992 Const: Arts. 136 – 138) → (Act 459 ss 10 – 13)
The Court of Appeal determines appeals from the High Court of Justice (with the exception of treason and high treason) Regional Tribunal and the Circuit Court in all matters civil or criminal.
The Court is composed of not less than 10 Justices of the Court of Appeal. Justices of the Court of Appeal are appointed from lawyers of not less than 12 years standing of high moral character and proven integrity.
There are two Courts of Appeals in Ghana located in Accra, Cape Coast and Kumasi respectively.
The High Court
→ (1992 Const: Arts. 139 - 141) → (Act 459 ss 14 - 22); and
The High Court has original jurisdiction, subject to other provisions of the Constitution, in all matters civil and criminal; jurisdiction to enforce Fundamental Human Rights and Freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution jurisdiction conferred in relation to infants, jurisdiction over persons of unsound mind, maritime matters The High Court has appellate jurisdiction in criminal matters from the Circuit Court; appellate jurisdiction over the District and Juvenile Courts; and any other jurisdiction conferred pursuant to the Constitution. It has exclusive jurisdiction over piracy, but has no jurisdiction in matters of treason or high treason. It also has supervisory jurisdiction over all lower courts and all lower adjudicating authorities.
The High Court is to consist of the Chief Justice, no less than 20 Justices of the High Court and such other Justices of the Supreme Court, Court of Appeal and Chairmen of Regional Tribunals as the Chief Justice may from time to time assign to sit as Justices of the High Court. Justices of the High Court shall be lawyers of not less than 10 years standing, of high moral character and proven integrity.
High Courts are presently established in 20 localities, namely: Accra, Tema, Cape Coast, Koforidua, Akim Oda, Nkawkaw, Agona Swedru, Sekondi, Tarkwa, Sefwi Wiawso, Denu, Ho, Hohoe, Asante Mampong, Kumasi, Sunyani, Wenchi, Tamale, Bolgatanga and Wa.
→ (1992 Const: Arts. 142 - 143) → (Act 459 ss 23 - 27).
A Regional Tribunal has concurrent original jurisdiction with the High Court in criminal matters. A Regional Tribunal is especially empowered by the Courts Act to try matter falling under Chapter 4 of Part III of the Criminal Code, 1960 (Act 29), offences arising from the Customs, Excise and Preventive Services Management Law, 1993 (PNDCL 330), Income Tax Decree, 1975 (SMCD 5), Narcotic Drugs (Control, Enforcement and Sanctions) Law, 1990 (PNDCL 236) and any other offence involving serious economic fraud, loss of state funds or property.
A Regional Tribunal consists of the Chief Justice, a Chairman and such members of the panel as the Chief Justice may appoint from time to time. While members of the panel may not be lawyers, a person can only be appointed as a Chairman if he or she is qualified to be a Justice of the High Court; namely of no less than 10 years standing as a lawyer, of high moral character and proven integrity. The CJ or any other Justice of the Supreme Court, Court of Appeal and the High Court may be appointed to sit as a Chairman of a Regional Tribunal. The panel members are appointed by the CJ in consultation with the Regional Coordinating Council and on the advice of the Judicial Council. In relation to lower courts, the Courts Act, 1993 (Act 459) as amended by The Courts Act (Amendment ) Act, 2002 (Act 620) and further by Act 620 provides for the Circuit Court, District Court, Juvenile Court, National House of Chiefs, Regional House of Chiefs and Traditional Councils.
→ (Act 620 ss 40 – 44)
The Circuit Court has original jurisdiction in civil matters
(i) in personal actions where the amount claimed is not more than ¢100 million
(ii) in landlord and tenancy matters for the possession of land claimed under lease;
(iii) in matters involving the ownership, possession, occupation of or title to land;
(iv) to appoint guardians of infants and to make orders for the custody of infants;
(v) to grant injunctions or orders to stay waste, or alienation or for the detention and preservation of any property or to restrain breaches of contract or the commission of any tort;
(vi) in claims of relief by way of interpleader in respect of land or other property attached in execution of an order made by a Circuit Court; and
(vii) in applications for the grant of probate or letters of administration in respect of the estate of a deceased person, and in causes and matters relating to succession to property of a deceased person, who had at the time of his death a fixed place of abode within the area of jurisdiction of the Circuit Court and the value of the estate or property in question does not exceed ¢100 million. The Circuit Court also has jurisdiction in all criminal matters other than treason, offences triable on indictment and offences punishable by death.
The Chief Justice is empowered to specify the jurisdiction of a Circuit Court in each region. A Circuit Court Judge, being a lawyer of no less than 5 years standing shall be appointed and assigned to a Circuit who may hold sittings in parts of the Circuit the Chief Justices decides on. The Chief Justice and any Justice of a superior court may be assigned to sit as a Circuit Court Judge.
About 52 Circuit Courts are currently operating in Regional and District capitals.
→ (Act 620 ss 45 – 53) → (Act 674 amends section 46)
The District Court has original jurisdiction in civil matters
i. in personal actions iwhere the amount claimed does not exceed ¢50 million;
ii. to grant injunctions or orders to stay waste or alienation or for the detention and preservation of any property, or restrain breaches of contracts or the commission of any tort;
iii. in claims for relief by way of interpleader in respect of land or other property attached in execution of a decree made by the District Court;
iv. in landlord and tenancy matters;
v. in actions relating to ownership, possession or occupation of land where the value of the land does not exceed ¢50 million;
vi. in divorce and other matrimonial causes or matters and actions for paternity and custody of children; vii. in applications for the grant of probate or letters of administration in respect of the estate of a deceased person, and in causes and matters relating to succession to property of a deceased person, where the value of the estate or property in question does not exceed ¢50 million; and viii. in juvenile matters.
A District Court has jurisdiction to determine any action under the Children’s Act, 1998 and exercises powers conferred on the Family Tribunal under that Act. The District Court has jurisdiction in criminal matters to try summarily an offence, an attempt to commit an offence, abetment or conspiracy in respect of an offence punishable by a fine not exceeding 500 penalty points or imprisonment for a term not exceeding 2 years or both; any other offence except an offence punishable by death or by life imprisonment or an offence declared to be a first degree felony.
District Court Magistrates may be lawyers or persons with such judicial or legal knowledge as the Chief Justice shall on the advice of the Judicial Council determine.
About 140 District Courts are currently operating in various towns in Ghana.
→ (Act 459 ss 49 – 50 as amended by Act 620) and Act 674 Jurisdiction of District Courts in Juvenile matters Under section 49 of Act 459, as amended, the Chief Justice may designate a District Court as a Juvenile Court. A Juvenile Court has power to hear and determine any matter civil or criminal that involves a person under the age of eighteen.
The Juvenile Court shall be composed of the District Magistrate, presiding and two other persons one of whom shall be a Social welfare Officer and the other a person of not less than 25 years. Other lower courts provided for in the Courts Act are:-
1. The National House of Chiefs
2. Regional Houses of Chief
3. Traditional Councils, and
4. Such other lower courts and tribunals as Parliament may establish.