Supreme Court upholds motion to remove judge in Opuni trial

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Dr Stephen Opuni

The Supreme Court has in a majority decision upheld the motion for Justice Clemence Honyenuga to discontinue hearing the case involving Dr Stephen Opuni and two others at the High Court.

The five-member panel of the court in a three-two majority ruled that, Justice Honyenuga, a Justice of the Supreme Court, sitting as an additional High Court Judge, was prohibited from continuing with the trial.

Justice Gabriel Pwamang, Justice Agnes Dodzie and Justice Amadu Tanko granted the application, while the presiding judge Justice Jones Dotse and Justice Lovelace Johnson dissented.

The panel also granted the request for portion of the ruling on submission of no case to be quashed.

Dr Opuni, and two others have pleaded not guilty to charges including causing financial loss to state in a lithovite fertiliser issues.

On July 13, 2021, Dr Opuni, a former Chief Executive of COCOBOD, filed a motion at the Supreme Court for certiorari to quash part of the decision of the High Court to dismiss his submission of no case.

He prayed the Apex to prohibit the judge from going on to hear the trial based on unfair comments made by Justice Honyenuga.
The court said the reasons will be made available at the registry of the Court on Friday, July 30, 2021.

Moving the motion previously, Mr Samuel Codjoe, Counsel for Dr Opuni, argued that, “we are asking for certiorari to quash part of the decision to dismiss our submission of no case and prohibition of the judge from going on to hear the case based on unfair comments.

He said it was also in the breach of natural justice, indicating that Dr Opuni was not given the opportunity to be heard when rejecting some exhibits and documents in the trial, thereby acting contrary to section 8 of the Evidence Act.

The Counsel said for section 8b to apply, the Court would have to hear the other party on objection to fulfil natural justice.
“The documents were not objected to and no one argued about it, when the prosecution were doing their case and we were not given enough time based on Article 19 and common law,” he said.

On being bias, he said, the statement given by a farmer as an evidence, which he said lithovit fertilizer was good was rejected and another one which a farmer said lithovit was bad was accepted.

The Counsel said if the case before the Court was predetermined and prejudged, then there would be no fair hearing.

Mr Alfred Tuah-Yeboah, the Deputy Attorney General, opposed the application, saying it was their submission that the applicant had failed to meet the required threshold to invoke the jurisdiction of the Court.
He argued that if there was even error on the face of the records, the applicant had failed to demonstrate that the error was so grave and fundamental and could go to the root of the impending ruling.

The Deputy A-G said the Court was bound to evaluate legal evidence and not illegal evidence, hence the case had been made for applicant to open case. “The Court did not make any errors,” he said.

Previously, the Chief Justice had 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 process for the transfer he was respectfully requesting for.

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 GHS300,000.00 self-recognizance bail each

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