The Judicial Service Staff Association of Ghana (JUSAG) strike is biting hard across the country, with the various law courts nationwide being reduced to a graveyard ambience, barely 24 hours after the industrial action.
A working visit to the various courts in the regions by Daily Graphic teams yesterday revealed that the entire legal system has grounded to a halt as the hitherto brisk legal hubs were deserted.
The teams observed that all the court premises were locked, making it virtually impossible for lawyers, prosecutors and persons with cases pending before the courts to gain access.
The entrance to the courts were locked, with red bands tied at the main gates of many of them.
Some court users and litigants who were not aware of the strike action and had travelled from far and near to access the services of the courts, were frustrated because there were no officials to attend to them.
A lawyer, George Bernard Shaw, said the government should, as a matter of urgency, resolve the issues that led to the strike for the wheel of justice to start running again, Emmanuel Ebo Hawkson reports.
In an interview, he said the strike had the potential of negatively affecting the economy, especially with regard to commercial cases, as well as the human rights of individuals who had been arrested and were awaiting trial.
“I think the government should start taking the Judiciary seriously because it is a very important arm of government whose functions go to the core of our democracy,” Mr Shaw stated.
JUSAG’s indefinite strike to drum home its demand for the government to review the salaries of members took effect from yesterday.
The strike involves all staff of the Judicial Service, with the exception of security staff, who would provide protection for the various courts and Judicial Service installations.
The association said President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo had been dragging his feet in implementing a report by the Judicial Council for the upward review of the salaries and conditions of service of staff of the Judicial Service.
Announcing the strike action in Accra last Wednesday, the President of JUSAG, Samuel Afotey Otu, said: “By this declaration of strike, all staff of the service are immediately directed not to report to work from today onwards unless, and until the President of Ghana complies with Article 149 of the Constitution by approving and paying our new salaries with all the areas from January to date.”
Explaining the strike, Mr Otu said per Articles 149 and 158(2) of the 1992 Constitution, the President determined the salaries of staff of the Judicial Service on a regular basis, acting on the advice of the Judicial Council.
“Conventionally, salaries, allowances and other conditions of service of staff of the Judicial Service are reviewed every two years pursuant to the provisions of the Constitution.
The last review of salaries of staff of the service was in 2021 and implemented from January 1, 2021 to December 31, 2022. By implication, we were due for another review to be implemented from January 1, 2023 to December 31 2024,” he said.
According to him, based on the constitutional provisions and the established convention in November 2022, the Judicial Council established a committee, made up of representatives from JUSAG, the Fair Wages and Salaries Commission and the Council itself.
The committee, he said, completed and submitted its work to the Judicial Council in February 2023, while the report was approved by the council in March 2023, and was subsequently forwarded to the President on April 20, 2023.
From Bolgatanga, Gilbert Mawuli Agbey reports that courts in Bolgatanga, Navrongo, Sandema, Bongo and Zebilla were temporarily shut down.
When the Daily Graphic arrived on the court premises in Bolgatanga, where two High Courts and a Circuit Court are housed, around 9:30 a.m. the entrance to the building had been padlocked and there was no security officer.
The team gathered that all persons who thronged the courts to engage in various activities could not gain access to the premises and had to leave disappointed.
The Supervising High Court Judge, Justice Charles Adjei Wilson, was not spared as he could also not access his office upon arrival on the premises around 9a.m.
Subsequently, he was compelled to hang around for a while before leaving the premises.
Justice Wilson told the Daily Graphic that since he was not part of the ongoing strike, he reported for work only to be stranded outside the locked court premises, adding,“when I asked someone who was already in the locked premises for the key, he said it was with the head of security who was not around.”
The Regional Chairperson of JUSAG, Mrs Lawrencia Anaboyinga, indicated that members were demanding a review of their salaries including allowances for the past two years, stressing, “for the past two years, our salaries have not been reviewed, a development which has brought untold hardship to us.”
“Ironically, other workers have enjoyed 30 per cent salary increase this year and we are still receiving our old salaries.
We go to the same markets with other government workers whose salaries have been adjusted upwards,” she lamented.
At Ho, the main yard of the Judicial Service of Ghana was desolate and as silent as a cemetery, Alberto Mario Noretti reports.
Aside from a security man who was spotted at the gate, there was no worker at the place which houses three High Courts and one Circuit Court.
The courtrooms and the various offices were shut, while the usual fleet of vehicles of members of the Bar and litigants were missing.
Two Magistrate Courts in other locations in the regional capital were also shut.
A senior court official who came into the main yard in the morning and left within minutes told this reporter that: “We are on strike and we do not know when we are coming back.”
From Sunyani in the Bono Region, Biiya Mukusah Ali reports that all the court premises in the Sunyani Municipality were very quiet.
There were no staff at the Sunyani High Court, the Sunyani District Court ‘A’ and the Sunyani District Court ‘B’, including security personnel.
When the Daily Graphic contacted the Bono Regional Chairman of the association, Alfred Ntow, who is also in charge of Bono East and Ahafo regions, he said members of the association were not ready to return to work if the government did not heed their request.
He said although members of the association were unhappy to see the public go through frustrations as a result of their strike, the economic hardship had compelled them to take that course of action.
The court complex in Cape Coast was also under lock and key when the Daily Graphic visited the facility, Shirley Asiedu-Addo reports.
There was nobody available at the complex working at the time, except for a few security men.
One of the gates had a red band on it ostensibly to symbolise the displeasure of the striking workers.
A worker spotted around the premises, who pleaded anonymity, said it was worrying to see many clients of the courts return unattended to because of the strike.
However, the source said since the economic situation in the country was biting workers hard, it was only reasonable that workers were listened to and their grievances resolved so that they could resume work.
“We don't enjoy being on strike but we can't work hungry," the source said.
The situation was not different in Kumasi where Kwadwo Baffoe Donkor reports that the usually busy court complex had been reduced to a ghost town, with all the doors to the offices closed.
With the exception of a security guard at the gate, there was no one around and the place looked like a cemetery, albeit serene and clean.
Haruna Yussif Wunpini writes from Koforidua that all the courts within the New Juaben South municipality were locked up and the premises virtually deserted.
For instance, the hustle and bustle mostly associated with the compound of the High Courts A & B, as well as the Circuit Courts A & B and the Commercial Courts were absent.
Only the security men and members of the Legal Aid team were seen idling about due to the absence of clients.
However, a security man, Maxwell Sarfo, explained that they would continue to discharge their duty to protect the court buildings and everything within them until the end of the strike.