PIONEER AFRICAN WOMEN IN LAW
Justice Gertrude Torkornoo
Supreme Court judge and the supervising judge of the Commercial Courts
By Sharon Abana
Her Ladyship Justice Gertrude Araba Esaaba Torkornoo is a Justice of the Supreme Court of Ghana and the supervising judge of the Commercial Courts in Ghana.
Justice Torkornoo was born on 11 September 1962 in Cape Coast and hails from Winneba in the Central Region of Ghana. Born to Abraham Kofi Sackey and Comfort Aba Sackey who were both teachers at the time, she is the second of five siblings. Her father retired as a Director of Education from Ghana Education Service. Her mother, however, set aside her teaching career to explore sewing, hairdressing, selling, and eventually settled as a baker – a trade Justice Torkornoo assisted with until she got married and left home.
Due to her father’s career as a teacher, holding positions including senior housemaster, Vice Principal, and Headmaster, she grew up on various secondary school compounds in Tema, Suhum, Winneba, and Ajumako. As a growing child, Justice Torkornoo aspired to be a lawyer or an actress. She was motivated by her father who always told her that he admired women lawyers and had declared when she was born that she would be a lawyer and he ensured that it happened.
She had her secondary education at Wesley Girls’ High School in Cape Coast where she obtained her GCE Ordinary Level Certificate. She then attended Achimota School for the Advanced Level Certificate. She studied Law & Sociology for her first degree at the University of Ghana and completed the Professional course in law at the Ghana School of Law in 1986. She holds an LLM in Intellectual Property Law from Golden Gate University, San Francisco, USA and a Postgraduate Diploma (PGD) in International Law and Organizations from the then International Institute of Social Studies, the Hague, Netherlands.
After law school in 1986, Justice Gertrude Torkornoo did her national service with the International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA) Legal Aid Center in Accra. Her pupillage was with Fugar & Co, where she went on to become an Associate and later, a Director of the firm. In 1989, while an Associate at Fugar & Co, she won an International Bar Association scholarship in Construction Law, which led to her doing a stage with Nabarro Nathanson in London, and specialization in Construction Law. In January 1997, she set up Sozo Law Consult and became the Managing Partner.
After 18 years of law practice, Justice Torkornoo was invited to join the judiciary in 2004 as a Justice of the High Court of Ghana. In October 2012, she was promoted to the Court of Appeal and rose to become a Justice of the Supreme Court, the apex court, in 2019.
She is well known for being one of the Supreme Court judges who presided over the 2020 presidential petition case between John Dramani Mahama and the Electoral Commission and Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo.
She has also made significant contributions to legal knowledge through some of her non-judicial writings including ‘Creating Capital from Culture’; ‘An Uneasy Marriage – the relationship between interest rate regimes and debt recovery rates in Ghana (2012), ‘Examining the Borrowers and Lenders Act’ (2015), and ‘The Law on Interests’ (2021).
Justice Torkornoo has held several leadership positions in the judiciary. They include chair of the Editorial Committee of Association of Magistrates and Judges, chief editor for the development of the Judicial Ethics Training Manual, vice-chair of the E-Justice Steering/Oversight Committee, and vice-chair of the Internship and Clerkship Programme for the Judiciary. She is currently the chair of the E-Justice Steering/Oversight Committee. She is also a faculty member of the Judicial Training Institute and a member of the governing Board of the Judicial Training Institute. She is a regular speaker on different platforms addressing issues on law, leadership and judicial ethics.
For Justice Torkornoo, her journey, as woman in law has been accompanied with challenges such as trying to juggle her family life and legal and judicial career. However, these challenges led her to develop competencies and skills that helped in her ascent to the top. Another challenge that she faced in her career was her long drawn-out journey to the decision to specialize in litigation, a decision that took almost ten years.
Furthermore, finding herself in a male-dominated profession, pushed her determination to excel. Consequently, she put in a lot of effort to prepare to ensure that she produced excellent work. Her resolve and assertiveness ensured that the arena of engagement with her at work remained on the intellectual level and focused discussions on the quality of work, rather than comments built on gender biases.
Outside of the courtroom, Justice Torkornoo is a poet and the author of two anthologies - The Child and The Rainbow, and The Wise Still Hear the Birds, and several plays. She is a staunch Christian and an ardent minister in the body of Christ who worships with the International Central Gospel Church, Calvary Temple. She also serves on the Governing Council of the Central University.
Flowing from her love and passion to promote the gospel, Justice Torkornoo established Sozo Foundation as a ministry dedicated to evangelism through the publication and distribution of tracts and other literary works. She plays a pivotal role in Aglow International, serves as a board member of Theovision International, a ministry that translates the Bible and creates audio Bibles in African languages. For several years, she has facilitated training in the Haggai Institute for Leadership Development.
In all these roles, Justice Torkornoo is inspired by the conviction that she has been given much and has to give back as much as she can as well.