On the Steady Path to Gender Balance: The Recent Appointment of Women in Ghana’s Supreme Court
By Atchere Asuah-Kwasi
The persistence of gender disparity and imbalance in public offices in Ghana is not because there are no qualified women capable of filling public positions, but rather one of whether equity and inclusion are central considerations when appointments are being made. From the perspective of this author, the key issue is that if equity is applied, women have the necessary qualifications to fill those positions. In a recent advocacy intervention in an article published by J. Jarpa Dawuni, PhD, titled Why More Women on the Supreme Court of Ghana Matters: Open Letter to President Nana Addo Dankwa Akuffo, the author makes a strong case for addressing the disparity of women judges on the bench of the Supreme Court of Ghana. In advocating for why more women need to be appointed to the Supreme Court, the author provides a compelling argument through a historical analysis of the trailblazing achievements of women, in Ghana, while zoning in on Ghana’s judiciary. This current article analyzes the December 2019 appointment of three women judges to the Supreme Court of Ghana to fill the vacancies left by the retirement of three other women judges—Justice Vida Akoto-Bamfo, Justice Sophia Adinyira and Chief Justice Sophia Akuffo.
In December 2019, President Nana Addo Dankwa Akuffo Addo, in exercising his constitutional mandate in Article 144(2) of the 1992 Constitution of Ghana, appointed 30 women and 18 men to the three apex courts of the Supreme Court (3 women), Court of Appeal (five women, six men) and High Court (twenty-two women, twelve men). Together, these recent appointments have led to an increase in the number of women judges within the higher courts of Ghana. Without the recent appointment of three women judges—Justice Mariama Owusu, Justice Gertrude Torkornoo and Justice Avril Lovelace Johnson to the Supreme Court, there would have been only one woman justice—Agnes M.A Dordzie, making it the lowest it has been in decades. Though these recent appointments by the President are commendable, it should not be taken as an end, but rather as the beginning of the quest for gender equitable representation in the judiciary and in other public offices.
Who are the women judges?
Justice Mariama Owusu comes from Beposo in the Ashanti Region. She was called to the Ghana Bar in 1981. Justice Owusu went into private practice with Totoe Legal Services in Ghana. In 1990, she joined the bench as a district magistrate, and later appointed a circuit court judge in 1992. She was elevated as a justice of the High Court in 2000. In 2006, she was appointed a Justice of the Court of Appeal, and in 2019, appointed to the Supreme Court. She has been an active member of the International Association of Women Judges (IAWJ), serving as President of the Ghana chapter from 2014 to 2018. She also served as a member of the Ethics Committee of the Judicial Service, and as a member of the Performing Assets Committee, Judicial Service, from 2010 to 2014.
Justice Gertrude Torkornoo comes from Winneba in the Central Region. She was called to the Ghana Bar in June 1986. She volunteered with FIDA Legal Aid Service and did an internship at Nabarro Nathanson in London in the early days of law practice. She completed her pupillage with Fugar & Co., a law firm in Accra, became an Associate of the firm, and was later appointed a director of the firm in 1994. From January 1997 to 2004, she became a Managing Partner at Sozo Law Consult. She was appointed a Justice of the High Court in May 2004, elevated to the Court of Appeal in October 2012, and to the Supreme Court Bench in December 2019. Key leadership positions she has held include; Supervising Judge for Commercial Courts; Chair, 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 and Oversight Committees and Vice-Chair of the Internship and Clerkship Program for the Judiciary. She is a faculty member and member of the Governing Board of the Judicial Training Institute.
Justice Lovelace-Johnson comes from Mankessim in the Central Region. Her legal and judicial career includes serving as an Assistant State Attorney in the Attorney-General’s Department. She began her judicial career in 1994 as a district magistrate, became a circuit court judge in 1994, a High Court judge in 2002, and in 2010, appointed to the Court of Appeal. She also served as a High Court judge (acting as an additional Court of Appeal judge) in The Gambia under the Commonwealth Secretariat from 2005 to 2009. Other positions she has held include, Director of the Public Complaints and Courts Inspectorate Unit of the Judicial Service of Ghana, Vice-President of the Association of Magistrates and Judges of Ghana and former Honorary Council Member of the Planned Parenthood Association of Ghana.
Beyond the numerical increase of women judges, what do these recent appointments mean? These appointments do not mean an immediate change in the circumstances of women’s representation in public office in Ghana. However, it is a positive signal that with the representation of more women, the opportunities for bringing gender perspectives to the bench may also increase. I am cognizant of the fact that being a woman does not necessarily equate to having a feminine judicial perspective; however, research has shown that most women judges do draw from their lived experiences when hearing cases. More women judges could lead to a change in institutional understandings of how the law interacts with gendered institutional cultures, with positive implications of the development of gender equitable jurisprudence. More women on the bench also sends a positive signal to the younger generations of women and girls that women have a right to be represented, and given the chance, they will deliver on their mandate. Lastly, more women on the bench is a fundamental constitutional principle of equity and equality opportunities under the law.
Research has shown that the number of women in judicial leadership in Africa is growing. The last two chief justices of Ghana have been women. Justice Georgina Theodora Wood was the first woman to be appointed to that position in 2007, and upon her retirement in 2017, Justice Sophia Akuffo became the second woman chief justice until her retirement in December 2019. The newly appointed chief justice (a man)— Justice Kwasi Anin-Yeboah, was sworn in on7th January, 2020. The alternation of leadership between women and men is necessary for real gender equality, and the judicial leadership of Ghana has shown that both women and men can hold and share leadership positions. While women in Ghana’s judiciary are making progress in numbers and also in leadership positions, the same cannot be said of the other public offices. My hope is that the progress within the judicial branch of Ghana will continue and become an example for other branches of government to emulate.
 See, https://www.africanwomeninlaw.com/post/2019/09/15/why-more-women-on-the-supreme-court-of-ghana-matters-open-letter-to-president-nana-addo-d  The other Supreme Court Justices shall be appointed by the President acting on the advice of the Judicial Council, in consultation with theCouncil of State and with the approval of Parliament.  Agnes M.A. Dordzie JSC  http://www.iawj.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/booklet_summitjudges2018.pdfand https://www.businessghana.com/site/news/general/202756/New-Supreme-Court-justices-take-office  https://www.businessghana.com/site/news/general/202756/New-Supreme-Court-justices-take-office https://www.businessghana.com/site/news/general/202756/New-Supreme-Court-justices-take-office