About Ghana Bar Association (GBA)

Our legal system, like so many other institutions in our state, is a direct product of our colonial past.  After a few fitful starts, the Supreme Court of Judicature for the Gold Coast Colony was established by ordinance by the Imperial Parliament in Westminster in 1876.  It consisted of a Chief Justice and not more than four puisne Judges.  Provision was further made for a Full Court of Appeal sitting in Accra and Lagos, which was then administered as part of the Gold Coast Colony.  The Supreme Court was vested with the same jurisdiction in civil and criminal matters as was exercisable by the Court of Queen’s Bench, the Court of Common Pleas, and the Court of Exchequer.  It can therefore be properly said that the establishment of the Supreme Court constituted the commencement of the legal profession in our country.  Hence the Bar’s valid claim to be the most senior of the professional associations in the nation.

The Supreme Court was established to apply the same rules of law and equity as were enforced by the common law courts and the courts of equity in England.  Necessarily, the existence of a permanent court promoted the emergence of legally trained persons who practiced before the Court and helped the Court to administer justice according to law.  Thus, it was that ten years after the establishment of the Court in 1876,  that the first native of the country was called to the Bar by Lincoln’s Inn in 1887 in the person of the famous historic figure of John Mensah Sarbah.  Even though 4 or 5 others, Charles Bannerman, James Bannerman, Edmund Bannerman, James Hutton Brew, George Blankson – were on the roll of lawyers before, Sarbah was the first barrister to be so enrolled, the others being solicitors.

The English colonial legacy meant that the division of the English profession into barristers and solicitors was initially imported into the colonial Gold Coast.  The barrister is the advocate in Court, and the solicitor is the counsellor and the drafter of documents.  It was an importation that was to have little impact in that from the very beginning there was no distinction in practice between what a barrister or solicitor could do here.  Both were lawyers, and entitled to provide the full range of services of a lawyer – legal advice, drafting of deeds, and the conduct of litigation as an advocate in the courts of law.  Such has been the development that in 1960 in the Legal Profession Act (Act 32) statutory authority was given to the definition of lawyers as “the legal practitioner”, which embraces both barristers and solicitors.  Strictly speaking, we do not have barristers or solicitors, only legal practitioners.

From the enrolment of Sarbah in 1887 until the establishment of the Law School in 1958, all lawyers were trained abroad, generally, with few exceptions, in England at the Inns of Court.  The numbers were thus small, but the establishment of the Law School in 1958 has led to a dramatic expansion in the membership of the profession.  Today it is factually established that 7,411 have been called to the Ghana Bar since 1877, with about 3,000-odd in local practice.

The bulk of these practitioners are to be found in the main cities of Accra, Kumasi, Cape Coast, Sekondi-Takoradi, Sunyani, Ho and Tamale.  The establishment of more courts in the regions has inevitably led to a greater dispersion of practitioners, thus permitting the ordinary person to have ready access to trained legal services.

Originally, the Ghana Bar Association did not exist as a formal institution in the sense in which we know it today.  In those far off days there were, of course, very few lawyers at the Bar and what could be called a Bar Association was simply an informal meeting of gentlemen at the Bar which was more a social gathering than anything else.  The tradition developed whereby the most senior member of the Bar was designated the leader of the Bar.

The Bar Association in its informal existence had no offices and kept no minutes of its meetings.  It is thus difficult for any researcher to find out exactly what the activities of the Bar Association were in those days.  It was only relatively recently, in fact within the last 40 years or so that our Bar Association has kept formal minutes of all its meetings and kept all other records maintained by important professional organisations world-wide.

The Bar has had many leaders but there is no proper record of the office holders of the Bar before relatively recently in 1957 from which time the Bar Association has regularly had a President, a Secretary and Treasurer and other Executive members democratically elected in accordance with the Constitution of the Bar.

The history of the Bar in any form cannot be complete without the acknowledgement of these office holders who sacrificed their time to steer the affairs of the Association without any form of remuneration.  The year by year roster of past (and present) office holders ie. Presidents and Secretaries, reads thus:

To assert its independence, and to insulate itself from any outside influence, be it political or otherwise, the Bar in 2004 through its own membership dues/levies paid for and acquired from the Divestiture Implementation Committee a GNTC Residential Unit No. 5 for refurbishment into present Bar Secretariat in the Ridge suburban area.

So, like a seed in shifting soils, the Bar from then took firm roots.  It has branches in every region of the country with elected Regional Executives from whom the Regional Presidents and Regional Secretaries are represented on the General Council of the Bar which is the body that manages the affairs of the Association between one annual conference and the next.  On a day to day basis, the work of the Ghana Bar Association is carried out by a National Executive Committee which is answerable to the General Council of the Bar.

The Association is proud not only of its history as the defender of the rights and liberties of the people, but also of the quality of the professional services its members have rendered here, and abroad.

The GBA has been an integral part of the development of our nation Ghana and a member of the GBA serves on the Board of almost every Government authority. The GBA also has international affiliations and is a member of the International Bar Association (IBA) and has collaborations with other national bar associations.

In the recent past, precisely the last 2 years, the Bar has been undertaking an in-house upgrade by embarking on ICT Reform projects.  To wit, the names of all persons called to the Ghana Bar since 1877 have been digitized, and lawyers can now renew their practising licences and pay their Bar dues online, and without leaving their offices.  Applications for Completion Pupillage Certificate, application for new chambers’ licences/renewal of chambers licences are also available online, and all Lawyers can now join the Gh. Bar Portal by visiting Gh. Bar Portal.  The Gh. Bar Portal is an interface for lawyers to access all the services the Ghana Bar Association offers it members. Some other ICT reforms rolled out include an improved and interactive website, a lawyer locater which will provide the general public with the location of lawyers and their practice specialties, improved conference registration and hotel booking interface among others.

The ongoing ICT projects are envisaged to also include electronic and proxy voting, online law reports, and participating in and play back continuous legal education (CLE) lessons from whatever location.

The Bar can now be said to have come of age.

Download History Here

1876

First Supreme Court of Judicature Starts

1887

First Native was called to Bar – John Mensah Sarbah

1958

Establishment of School of Law in Ghana

1958

Bar Association draws its Constitution

1976

Centenary Celebration of the Establishment of the Supreme Court

2019

The Bar as it stands today with ICT Reforms