Two names are running neck-to-neck for the position of Chief Justice as the current occupier of the seat, Justice Sophia Akuffo, bows out on December 20, 2019.
Justices Jones Dotse and Justice Anin Yeboah are in a tight race for the head of the country’s Judiciary.
Interestingly, the two were highly tipped for the job in 2017 but the President had other reasons to hand over the baton from one female Chief Justice—Justice Theodora Wood to another—Justice Sophia Akuffo.
The Kufuor administration appointed both judges to the country’s apex court in the same year, 2008. In that same year, Justice Paul Baffoe Bonnie was also appointed.
However, Justice Dotse began his foray into the legal arena three years before his contender.
He graduated from the University of Ghana in 1976 with a Law degree and was later awarded a Barrister at Law from the Ghana School of Law in 1978. He was called to the Bar in November that same year.
Justice Yeboah will graduate three years later in 1981 from the Ghana School of Law.
In the world of work, Justice Dotse worked as a State Attorney for three years before going into private practice for two decades.
Before joining the bench in 2002, he had risen to become the President of the Volta Region Bar Association.
He served for seven years as a High Court judge before he was appointed a Justice of the Gambian Supreme Court in 2008. Ghana replicated the Gambian appointment in that same year.
During his time at the High Court, one of the major cases Justice Dotse sat on was the MV Benjamin case involving Kwabena Amaning aka Tagor and Alhaji Issa Abass who were on trial for a drug-related offence.
Justice Annin Yeboah
Unlike Justice Dotse, Justice Yeboah had a stint with the Court of Appeal from 2003-2008 before being appointed to the Supreme Court. Before then, he served as a High Court judge from 2002-2003.
A part-time lecturer at the Ghana School of Law in Civil Procedure and the Ghana Legal System, Justice Yeboah’s legal experience includes writing judgments in constitutional matters, civil and criminal cases and providing opinions on legal matters.
A passionate football man, he also put his legal expertise at the disposal of the Ghana Football Association. He served as Chairman of the Appeal Committee of the association from 2004 to 2008.
In May 2017, FIFA formally appointed him Chairman of the Disciplinary Committee at its 67th FIFA Congress in Bahrain.
The 1992 constitution mandates the President to appoint a Chief Justice with the blessings of the Council of State and the approval of Parliament.
The Constitution also expects, the person qualified to be Chief Justice must be of high moral character and have proven integrity.
The candidate must have been a lawyer for at least fifteen years.
However, beyond the constitutional requirement, there are other political calculations that are not usually available on the menu for public discussions.
Until the appointment of Justice Georgina Theodora Wood in 2007, the most senior-most judge on the Supreme Court was appointed Chief Justice.
Wood’s appointment bucked the trend.
The senior-most Supreme Court judge at the time, Justice Francis Kpegah felt snubbed in 2007.
Photo: Justice Francis Kpegah
Currently Justice Julius Ansah, who got to the Supreme Court on October 15, 2004 will be the senior-most Supreme Court judge after the exit of Justice Sophia Akufo who former President J.J. Rawlings nominated to the the country’s highest court in 1995.
Justice William Atuguba also felt the snub when President Akufo-Addo went in for Justice Sophia Akuffo in 2017.
That year, Justice Dotse was highly favoured for many reasons including the fact that he had chaired more panels of the Supreme Court than Justice Yeboah, although the two are highly respected.
While competence will be a key consideration, there is no doubt that loyalty and some level of political considerations will also be on the President’s mind when he decides to select the country’s 26th Chief Justice since 1876.
Both judges have had their fair share of political criticisms and taggings.
In the heat of the 2012 election petition to decide the winner of the disputed presidential polls, lead counsel for the National Democratic Congress, Tsatsu Tsikata openly accused Justice Yeboah of bias in favour of the NPP.
In 2013, Justice Dotse was also accused of being a one-time Chairman of the party in the Volta Region.
Then again, he is also famously credited for coining the ‘create, loot and share’ moniker which went viral. He made the statement in reference to the NDC government’s decision to pay GHc 51 million judgment debt to a businessman.
The Supreme Court said the monies were wrongfully paid and Justice Dotse pointed to an attempt by state and non-state actors to defraud the country.
But even political connections, perceived or real may push the tide in a candidate’s favour.
Considerations such as regional balance and ethnicity could be key.
With the Akufo-Addo facing criticisms for pushing too many people of Akan origin on into his government, the President may want to balance the scale.
This could be particularly so because the President is an Akan, the Vice President is from the north and the Speaker of Parliament is a Ga.
The Akufo-Addo government has been scoffed at for having less than five per cent of his ministers from the Volta Region.
It may just be a good time for the President to clear misconceptions that the region is sidelined because their vote characteristically goes to the opposition NDC.
In the end, it could be Anin Yeboah. But then again, it could be Dotse. But then again President Akufo-Addo has swerved both before.