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Africa

Ghanaians call for trial of corrupt judges

After months of investigation, 20 Ghanaian judges found guilty of bribery have been sacked. But they are not being tried for their crimes. Now activists and lawmakers are calling for them to be prosecuted.

The corruption came to light when a documentary film released earlier this year appeared to show judges and magistrates accepting bribes to influence their decisions in court. Now twenty of the initial suspects have been sacked. But there are complaints from some Ghanaians that the judges' punishment does not fit their crimes. Although the judges cannot return to work, they have not been sentenced. Four of the guilty judges will even be able to collect their end of service benefits because they expressed remorse for their actions.

It's the latest development in a corruption case that rocked the west African nation. Back in August 2015, Ghanaians flocked to watch the incriminating documentary, made by Ghana's star investigative journalist Anas Aremeyaw Anas. He spent two years collecting hundreds of hours of audio and video material.

The film had an almost immediate impact. In September, 22 suspects from the lower court as well as 12 high court judges were

suspended after having been identified in the footage

. Following an investigation, 20 of the lower court suspects were sacked on Monday, December 7. "The judicial council is determined to take prompt, resolute and necessary measures to ensure the integrity of the judiciary and the judicial service," said Ghana's chief justice Georgina Wood of the decision to sack the guilty judges. "We are indeed fully committed to redeeming the image of the judiciary and the judicial service."

Tackling corruption

For some Ghanaians, the punitive measures do not go far enough. "We need to set some critical examples, so the masses know that Ghana is ready to tackle the bull," said Mary Adah from Ghana Integrity initiative, the local chapter of Transparency International. "Corruption has dire consequences," she told DW. "We must tackle it and tackle it wholly."

Not everyone is critical of the way the five-member disciplinary committee handled the case. Ghanaian civil society activist Linda Ofori Kwarfo said she believed the committee's decision was fair. "They have done well, at least for now,“ she told DW. "I am sure they have actually followed the procedures as laid down in the constitution," she said, adding that critics of the decision would have to prove any wrongdoing on the committee's part.

Guilty but not tried

But on the streets of Accra,

locals seemed dissatisfied

with the committee's decision.

Georgina Wood in her judge's white wig

Chief Justice Georgina Wood promised the judiciary was taking the matter seriously

"What I don't understand is the motive of some of them getting their benefits," Tetteh Sarpong told DW, suggesting that some of the guilty judges were still living in properties they might have acquired through illegal means. Elorm Hlidza agreed that sacking the judges alone was not enough, "They should also be taken to the law court and tried so that they also face what they have been putting other people through," she said.

For now, the 20 lower court judges found guilty are not facing further consequences, and there have been no announcements about whether the committee's decision on their punishment could be appealed. For the 12 high court judges suspended, the investigation continues. Amid calls for the courts to reform, journalist Anas is still working undercover to bring corrupt Ghanaians to justice.

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