PIONEER AFRICAN WOMEN IN LAW
Georgina Theodora Wood
First woman Chief Justice (Ghana)
By Maame Ama Adu-Mensah
Her Ladyship Justice (Mrs.) Georgina Theodora Wood (Rtd) (née Lutterodt) was born on June 8, 1947. Her basic education was at Bishop Girls’ School, Accra, Methodist Primary School, Dodowa, and Mmofraturo Girls’ Boarding School, Kumasi. She obtained her secondary education from Wesley Girls' High School, Cape Coast between 1960 and 1966. Georgina Wood attended the University of Ghana, Legon, where she earned her Bachelor of Laws degree in 1969 and was called to the Bar in 1970 after the completion of her professional training at the Ghana Law School, where she obtained a 2nd Class (Upper Division) in the Bar qualifying examinations. Wood then undertook a Police Service Officer’s Training Course at the Officers College of the Ghana Police Service and commissioned as an Officer (Deputy Superintendent of Police) in 1971.
The premiere lady Chief Justice started her career as a Deputy Superintendent of Police with the Ghana Police Service in 1971 and exited in 1974. In 1974, she was appointed a Magistrate of the District Court, Grade II, and was subsequently promoted to Grade I. Wood’s hard work, integrity, professionalism, and dedication to justice and the judicial system led to her rise through the ranks of the judicial system. In 1991, she was elevated to the Court of Appeal and during her tenure, she served as the President of the Court between 2000 and 2002 since she was the most senior member of the Court at the time. Subsequently, she was elevated to the Supreme Court in November 2002. In June 2007, she was appointed by His Excellency J. A. Kufuor (former president of the Republic of Ghana) as Chief Justice after a successful vetting and approval by consensus by the parliament of Ghana. She is the only Chief Justice who had the opportunity of swearing-in four presidents under the country’s 4th Republican Constitution – the late President John Evans Atta-Mills in 2009, President John Dramani Mahama – initially in 2012 after the demise of Evans Atta Mills to complete his unexpired term, and subsequently in 2013 after he was declared the winner of the 2012 Presidential election, and President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo in 2017.
Justice Wood is recognized as the longest-serving Chief Justice with her tenure spanning a decade, from 2007 to 2017. This period was marked by remarkable leadership and outstanding reforms in the judicial system of Ghana. She worked in conjunction with the Office of the Attorney-General and Ministry of Justice, and in collaboration with the Judicial Service, Police Service, Prisons Service, Legal Aid Commission, Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ), and civil society groups to introduce the Justice for All Programme (JFAP) in 2007.
The goal of the initiative was to promote access to justice and reduce overcrowding in prisons by setting up special in-prison courts throughout the country to adjudicate cases of remanded prisoners. Under Justice Wood’s tenure, she diligently sustained and expanded its reach. Her efforts subsequently led to her establishment of the first High Court situated in Nsawam Prisons that promoted prisoners’ rights and their access to justice. A report by the Office of the Attorney General and Ministry of Justice in 2019 revealed that out of a total of 3,704 inmates who appeared before the courts, 723 had been discharged, 1,193 had been granted bail and 151 had been convicted.Justice Wood also approved the live broadcast of the Supreme Court hearings concerning the 2012 election petition case, an unprecedented decision that aided in the development of Ghana’s democracy and further enlightened the populace about the electoral process. Justice Wood affirmed her promise to fight corruption in the judiciary by dismissing judges who were implicated in Tiger Eye Private Investigator’s judicial expose in 2015 which uncovered corruption in Ghana’s judicial system.
On her assumption of office in 2007, Chief Justice Wood (Rtd.) instituted the Annual Chief Justice’s Mentoring Programme which brought together students of second cycle institutions to expose them to the functions of the judiciary and the administration of justice in Ghana. This was sponsored by the Danish International Development Agency (DANIDA) and was purposely to demystify the administration of justice while encouraging the students to take up future careers at the bar and on the bench. Later, students from the Akropong School for the Blind in the Eastern Region were included in the program. By the kind courtesy of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the scope of the Mentoring Programme was expanded to include some vulnerable migrant young girls who worked as head porters on the streets of Accra and were out of school for varied reasons.
Apart from her judicial duties in Ghana, Justice Wood served as a Sessional Justice of the Supreme Court of the Republic of The Gambia between 2004 and 2007, relinquishing the position after being appointed Chief Justice of Ghana. As an ardent advocate of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR), Wood has contributed immensely to advancing the course of ADR both locally and internationally. She was trained extensively in the United States of America and by the World Bank in ADR. Justice Wood has been instrumental in shaping the ADR structure in Ghana. She chaired the working committee which designed the court-connected ADR program and drafted manuals on court-connected ADR and pre-trials in the Commercial Court of Ghana. Her depth of knowledge in ADR led to her appointment as chairperson of the committee responsible for mainstreaming ADR in Ghanaian courts.
Justice Wood trained judges, lawyers, and civil society organizations in ADR theory and practice at the Judicial Training Institute as well as the Judicial Service Career Magistrates Program. In addition to her contributions to ADR in Ghana, Justice Wood co-authored the manual on the Gambian ADR court-connected program and has educated members of the bench, bar, and court officials in The Gambia on the same subject matter. Besides her immense contributions to the legal academy in the field of ADR, Justice Wood taught civil procedure in the Judicial Service Career Magistrates Program and was an external examiner in Advocacy and Ethics at the Ghana School of Law for over ten years.
Throughout her career, Wood has occupied other positions. She chaired the Georgina Wood Committee, set up on July 4, 2006, to investigate the three related cases of the disappearance of 77 packets of cocaine each weighing 30 kilograms from a shipping vessel, the alleged bribery of police officers to the tune of US$200,000.00 and the 588 kilograms of cocaine seized by officers at East Legon.
She was appointed a member of the special team of the International Bar Association (IBA) and International Legal Assistance Consortium (ILAC) to Kenya upon the recommendation of the Kenya Law Society on Judicial Reforms. Her involvement with Kenya led to her appointment by the Kenyan government with the approval of Kenya’s legislature as one of the three non-Kenyans from Commonwealth countries to serve on the Judges and Magistrates Vetting Board in 2015. The board’s main function was to vet all judges and magistrates appointed before the coming into force of the 2010 Constitution to determine their suitability to continue in office. Justice Wood relinquished this position after eight months to commit more time to her role as Chief Justice of Ghana.
In 2016, Georgina’s international career soared with her admission as an Honorary Bencher (honoris causa) of the Honourable Society of Gray’s Inn, making her the first and only Ghanaian on the Historical List of Honorary Benchers since 1883. Two years after her admission, she participated in an all-female premiere event organized by Gray’s Inn dubbed “First Women of the Supreme Courts in Conversation". Other members of the panel who are all honorary members of the Honourable Society of Gray’s Inn were: The President of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom, Baroness Hale; The Chief Justice of Australia, Susan Kiefel; and Former Chief Justice of Canada, Beverley McLachlin.
As a human rights advocate, Justice Wood has served on several boards of international justice and human rights organizations, including the Global Justice Center. She was a member of the International Advisory Committee to guide the development of a handbook on HIV, the Law, and Human Rights in 2011. In the same year, she was selected to be part of a group of eminent individuals who constituted an International Advisory Group on Universal Access to HIV Prevention, Treatment, Care, and Support. After she retired from the Bench in 2017, she was sworn in as a member of the Council of State of Ghana per Article 89(2)(a)(i) of the 1992 Constitution of Ghana. The Council of State is a constitutional advisory body established to give counsel to the President in the performance of his functions. On February 1, 2021, she was reappointed as a member of the Council of State by His Excellency Nana Addo Dankwa Akuffo-Addo to continue her mandate on the Council.
Furthermore, Wood has delivered papers and lectures on an array of topics including “Democracy, Good Governance and the role of the Legal Profession: The case of Ghana” delivered in 2009 at Hong Kong as the keynote speaker for the 16th Commonwealth Law Conference, and “Ghanaian Women and Children’s access to Justice at the Avon Global Center for Women and Justice,” delivered in 2010 at Cornell University in New York. In 2013, she was one of the main speakers at the first Global Deans Forum organized by the International Association of Law Schools (IALS) held in Singapore. She was later invited to serve on the Judicial Council of IALS on Global Legal Education and attended several subsequent international conferences, delivering papers when called upon. Justice Wood delivered papers at the Commonwealth Lawyers’ Conferences held in Scotland and subsequently Melbourne in 2015 and 2017 respectively.
Her contribution to the legal academy is noteworthy due to her close and extensive collaboration with a few universities outside of Ghana. In 2010, Lady Justice Theodora Wood delivered a lecture on "The Development of Law and Development in Ghana" at the State University of New York College, Geneseo. She was invited as the distinguished speaker of the President’s Diversity Lecture which was combined with the annual Roemer Lecture on World Affairs. This invitation initiated her engagements with Fordham University and Cornell University, Ithaca. Her engagements with Fordham Law School and its Leitner Center for International Law and Justice blossomed throughout her tenure as Chief Justice of the Republic of Ghana.
The far-reaching engagements involved study tours to the United States of America to familiarize herself with US governance and legal system, delivery of lectures at events, and networking with faculty members, jurists of the Court, and lawyers. Through the instrumentality of Justice Wood, several judges and members of the judiciary in Ghana were awarded scholarships to read post-graduate programs at Fordham Law School as well as other universities in the United States of America, the United Kingdom, Malta, and The Netherlands as well as in Zimbabwe and South Africa. Her work with Professor Paolo Gallizi who represented the Leitner Center during her ten-year tenure resulted in many successes for the Ghanaian judiciary. Out of the public lectures she has given, two outstanding engagements were Justice Wood’s lecture on “The Dynamic of Law and Development in Ghana: The Case for Judicial Reform in an Emergent Democracy” delivered on April 9, 2008, as part of The Leitner International Law Lecture Series and her keynote speech at the 2014 Annual Human Rights Prize and Dinner hosted by the same Center.
In addition, Justice Wood was invited as a visiting jurist at the Center for African Peace and Conflict Resolution, California State University in 2011 where she delivered lectures. In 2016, she was a visiting jurist at the University of Oregon (UO), Eugene. As part of her engagement with UO, she was one of five speakers of African descent to host workshops and trainings at the university as part of the initiative of the Division of Equity and Inclusion to enhance its work. The well-planned visit extended beyond the borders of the University to include meetings with judges, the state Bar, a section of the African-American community, and a visit to the Supreme Court. In 2017, she was appointed by the Africa Initiative for Governance (AIG) as a Visiting Fellow of Practice for 2017-2018 at the Blavatnik School of Government, University of Oxford. The annual AIG Fellowship is awarded to “an individual from West Africa who has demonstrated evidence of outstanding contribution to the public good, through exemplary leadership in public service.”
Every good work deserves commendation, and the good work of former Chief Justice Georgina Wood has not gone unrecognized. As early as 1986, she received the Faculty of Law award for Outstanding Judicial Career at the 40th Anniversary Celebrations of the Faculty. President John A. Kufuor, the second president of the 4th Republic, decorated her with the Order of The Star Of Ghana (SOG), the nation’s highest honor in 2007, and in August 2008, she was awarded a Doctor of Laws degree (LLD - honoris causa) by the University of Ghana. On retirement in 2017, Justice Wood became the first recipient of the newly instituted Legal Profession Lifetime Achievement Award by the Ghana Bar Association (GBA) for her commitment to the Rule of Law.
In 2011, she was the recipient of the Peace Award by The Center for African Peace and Conflict Resolution, California State University, Sacramento, for her commitment and contribution to ADR since receiving training in the Theory and Practice of ADR from the Centre. In the same year (2011), she received the international category award from the prestigious Trumpet Awards Foundation which recognizes African American achievement and excellence.
Undoubtedly, Georgina Theodora Wood is a trailblazer in law for her appointment as the first woman Chief Justice of Ghana and the youngest to occupy this position in modern Ghana. She has also laid a strong foundation for the judiciary of Ghana due to her niche expertise in ADR which has served nations near and far in immeasurable ways. Her visionary leadership, adoption of cutting-edge strategies to sanitize the judicial system, and commitment to women’s empowerment, demonstrate her unrelenting commitment to justice.