Opuni Trial: Chief Justice declines transfer of judge

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Dr Stephen Opuni

The Chief Justice has declined the request to transfer the case involving Dr Stephen Opuni and two others to another judge.

Chief Justice Kwasi Anin-Yeboah, in a letter dated June 25, 2021, addressed to the Trial Judge, Justice Clemence Honyenuga, a Justice of the Supreme, sitting as an additional High Court Judge, said “Your petition in respect of the above subject matter has been considered after serious thought.”

“I have noticed from the petition that the learned judge has not made any prejudicial statements to infer that there is real likelihood of bias against you (Dr Opuni) as an accused person; in the case in which you are yet to open your defence.”

The Chief Justice said since no serious allegation of likelihood of bias had been established, “I will decline the invitation to transfer the case to another judge.”

The Chief Justice said that did not preclude Dr Opuni, in the exercise of his Constitutional rights, to report to the juridical process for the transfer he was respectfully requesting for.

Justice Honyenuga, in his response to the letter, said, “I must state emphatically that with the direction of the Chief Justice, nothing stops me from continuing this case.”

He said, “I have also noticed on the docket that Dr Opuni has filed a motion on notice for discovery which was fixed for 29 June 2021 but was adjoined to July 1, 2021.”

Justice Honyenuga said he had again noticed that the Chief State Attorney had complied and filed all the necessary disclosures asked for by Dr Opuni.

He said, however, out of respect for the Supreme Court, where Dr Opuni had filed an application to invoke the supervisory jurisdiction of the Court and which application was fixed for July 13, 2021, “I will in the circumstances adjourn the trial to abide by the judgement of the Supreme Court.”

Consequently, the trial stood adjourned to July 15, 2021.

Dr Opuni petitioned the Chief Justice for Justice Honyenuga to recuse himself from continuing with the matter.

The Court on June 9, 2021, dismissed a motion filed by Dr Opuni and two others seeking the trial judge to recuse himself and refer the trial to the Chief Justice for the matter to be reassignment to a new judge.

The trial judge after hearing the parties said it was his candid opinion that the application was brought in bad faith.

Dr Opuni said, in his view, the trial judge had allegedly breached Article 19 2E and G of the Constitution and also under the inherent jurisdiction of the Court, he ought to step aside.

The basis was that “we will not be given adequate time and facility for our defence and this is based on the fact that your Lordship on May 7, 2021, stated that your primary duty was in the Supreme Court and this case had unduly delayed and is preventing you or interfering in your duties and, therefore, you wanted to complete it early.”

He said based on this when their application for submission of no case was dismissed and they asked for time to prepare their defence, the Judge first gave them seven days.

“This is against the practice direction which is contained in the 2017-2020 Volume 1 Report of the Supreme Court Ghana Law Report,” he said.

Dr Opuni, who filed the motion earlier through his Counsel, Mr Samuel Cudjoe, said they requested for an adequate time that the Court was void by that practice direction to give them adequate time but that was not done.

He said according to the first accused person, the motion was on the grounds of breach of Article 19 (2) (e) & (g) of the 1992 Constitution and for the real likelihood of bias and asked the trial Judge to refer the suit to the Chief Justice, amend same for it to be “reassigned to another judge on the grounds as contained in the accompanying affidavit.”

The first accused said the learned Judge stated in open court that he had to complete the case quickly to enable him to concentrate on his duties at the Supreme Court as the case had been pending for the past three years thereby affecting his work in the Supreme Court.

He said the learned Judge having stated in open court that he was in hurry to hear the case, such that he refused to give him an additional four days to enable him adequately prepare for the case, it had become clear to him that he would not be given adequate time and facilities to prepare for his defence as stipulated by Articles 19 (2) (e) and (g) of the 1992 Constitution.

He said in the ruling on the submission of no case, the judge made final determinations which could only be made in the final judgement after the accused had been heard.

“This final determination we submit shows that your Lordship has prejudged and predetermined the guilt of the first accused even before he mounted the box,” he added.

Mrs Evelyn Keelson, Chief State Attorney, opposed the application at the last sitting and stated that the applicant had not disclosed any circumstances warranting the application calling on the Judge to recuse himself.
Dr Opuni and Mr Agongo are facing 27 charges, including defrauding by false pretences, willfully causing financial loss to the State, money laundering, corruption by public officers and contravention of the Public Procurement Act.

They have both pleaded not guilty to the charges and are on a GH¢300,000.00 self-recognizance bail each.

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