The case of Re: Akoto & 7 Others is one that every lawyer trained in Ghana had the good fortune of reading as part of the Constitutional Law course leading to an LL.B or B.A degree in Law. As a first year law student at the University of Ghana, the experience was quite daunting as I had to make do with the painful minutiae font size used in the case brief in original ‘Gyandoh & Grifiths’, the casebook on Constitutional Law. The 1961 Ghana Law Report that also had the case reported in it was never available at the Law Faculty Library whenever I went searching for it; well, this was A.D 1992. Secondly, I did not fully understand many of the philosophical underpinnings of the legal theories expounded by both Sir Geoffrey Bing (a British), the Attorney-General and Dr. J. B Danquah, the lawyer for the appellants in the case. Out of what I could understand from the case then, however, I developed a great affinity with Dr. Danquah for the sheer dearth of research and legal ingenuity that he prayed in aid to put forth such legal theories on the protection of fundamental human rights and freedoms. By the same token, I was intrigued by the very fact that Sir Geoffrey Bing was prepared to defend to the death the Preventive Detention Act, the obnoxious law under which the eight appellants (and several others) had been detained without trial.
In the matter of Sir Bing, my perplexity waned when I later read about him from Justice A.N.E Amissah’s farewell speech in 1977 (at the latter’s retirement from the Bench at age 46) as follows: “Now Bing was a complex and intriguing character. He always said that he was a politician and not a lawyer. He could not see the Attorney-General exercise functions independently of political authority and, indeed, actively assisted in the removal of his independence… Bing aroused strong emotions, most of it repulsive in nature.” Justice Amissah had served under Sir Bing at the Attorney-General’s Department and incidentally, Sir Bing appeared with Justice Amissah as the lawyers for the Republic in the Re Akoto case. Once I learned that my repulsion for Bing was widely shared, I began to exhale easily.
The case of Re: Akoto & 7 Others
Just one year after Ghana gained independence, Parliament passed the Preventive Detention Act in 1958. This law gave the President the power to arrest and detain any person and imprison him for, at least, five years to prevent the person detained from acting in a manner prejudicial to the state. On 11th November, 1959, an order was issued for the arrest and detention of nine people, including Baffour Osei Akoto, Asantehene’s Senior Linguist under the Preventive Detention Act. Their lawyer applied to the High Court for a habeas corpus order for their release but they were denied an order for release. Then they appealed to the Supreme Court but the Supreme Court held, among other things, that the Preventive Detention Act was not contrary to the Constitution and that, Parliament had power to pass such a law even in peace time.