The High Court, presided over by Court of Appeal judge, Justice Dominic Dennis Adjei, ruled that it was improper for police officers desiring to stop a street protest, to obtain an injunction from the Circuit Court.
The pro-opposition pressure group had had running battles with the police over its decision to hold street protests in support of calls for the compilation of a new voters’ register. The group contended the register used for the 2012 general election was fundamentally flawed and could not be relied on for credible elections.
The police on each occasion went to the Circuit Court and obtained an injunction stopping the protests entirely or preventing the group from using certain routes.
Dissatisfied with the conduct of the police, the group went to court to seek clarification on whether or not it was appropriate for a Circuit Court to entertain matters arising out of the enforcement of the Public Order Act.
The Public Order Act, 1994 requires persons desiring to hold a public event to notify the police in writing not less than five days before the event.
The law says “Where a police officer notified of a special event under subsection (1) has reasonable grounds to believe that the special event if held may lead to violence or endanger public defence, public order, public safety, public health or the running of essential services or violate the rights and freedoms of other persons, he may request the organisers to postpone the special event to any other date or to the relocate the special event.”
It adds that, “Where the organisers refuse to comply with the request under subsection (4) or fail to notify the police officer in accordance with subsection (5), the police officer may apply to any justice or a chairman of a Tribunal for an order to prohibit the holding of the special event on the proposed date or at the proposed location.”
This is the provision the police often relies on to injunct demonstrations especially when such intended protests have political connotations.
But the High Court in a landmark ruling, said the Circuit Court cannot hear and grant a motion to stop any citizen from exercising their constitutionally guaranteed right of freedom of assembly and expression or protest.
It said the law requires police officers to go before a justice or chairman of a tribunal but judges of the Circuit Court are not justices and, therefore, lack jurisdiction to preside over a matter bordering on the enforcement of this provision.
The High Court also ruled that it is crude and improper for police officers to appear before courts with ex parte motions seeking to prohibit the holding of street protests and other public events.
The police, Justice Dennis Adjei maintained, must come on notice and allow the other party or parties to state their case.
This, he said, would enable the Court to determine whether or not there is merit in the arguments of either side.
Convenor of LMVCA, David Asante, said the ruling was a landmark one in which the group was well pleased.
He told Myjoyonline.com the court’s decision was only in furtherance of Ghana’s democratic practice and enhances the nation’s democratic credentials.
Many members of the group were brutalised by police personnel when they deviated from laid down routes during a protest.
The police had obtained a court order prohibiting them from going to the Electoral Commission to present a petition as they requested.
The brutalities were widely condemned as excessive and abuse of power.
The police insisted they used minimum force to prevent the protesters from violating the court’s orders.
A second attempt to hold a similar protest was frustrated by court injunctions obtained by the police through ex parte motions founded on what was widely believed to be trumped-up intelligence.
The legality of the conduct of the police was challenged in court, leading to Monday’s historic decision by the High Court.