A Supreme Court Judge acting as an additional High Court judge in a criminal case involving Dr.Stephen Opuni, former CEO of the Ghana Cocoa Board (COCOBOD) has dismissed an application by the former CEO to get him removed from the case.
Justice Clemence Honyenuga, has been accused of bias in the above mentioned case.
Dr. Opuni has been standing trial since 2017 for causing a 217 million dollar financial loss to the state in an alleged fertilizer transaction.
According to lawyers for Dr.Opuni, the judge has made some comments in open court and made a ruling on a submission of no case application, which makes them doubt the possibility of their client, getting fair hearing in the case.
Dr. Opuni filed his first application in March 2020 to get the Judge removed. He accused the Judge of openly campaigning for President Akufo-Addo at a traditional durbar.According to the lawyers, the judge openly endorsed President Akufo-Addo’s free Senior High School policy.
The first application was dismissed.
Dr. Opuni however went to the Supreme Court to further press for the removal of the Judge. A five member panel presided over by Chief Justice Kwasi Anin Yeboah described the application as lacking merit and accordingly dismissed it. Other members of this panel were Justices Jones Dotse, Sule Gbadegbe, Nene Amegatcher and Gertrude Torkornoo.
After Justice Honyenuga held that the prosecution has been able to establish a prima facie case against Dr.Opuni and Seidu Agongo, lawyers for Dr. Opuni renewed their attempt to get him removed from the case.
The accused person was at this point ordered by the court to open his defence after their submission of no case had been dismissed.
Dr.Opuni, through his lawyers is now alleging bias on the part of the trial judge. He has cited the inability to receive a fair trial and not being given adequate time for his defence.
He argued that after dismissing his submission of no case on May 7, 2021, the court adjourned to May 17 meaning he had 10 days within which to open his defence instead of 14 days requested by his lawyer to prepare adequately to open his defence, study and respond to the volumes of documents, tendered by the prosecution.
He alleges that the 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 pended for the past three years and thereby affected his work in the Supreme Court. According to him, the statement was made after the judge dismissed his application of no case.
“I state further that in the ruling dismissing my application for a submission of no case, the learned judge made final determination of fact which determination can only be made at the final determination of the case and not after the prosecution has closed its case. This shows real likelihood of bias by the learned judge,” Mr.Opuni said.
“The learned judge having made this final determination of fact when I have not yet opened my defence has shown that I would not have a fair trial in that the learned judge has already determined the case against me and I cannot therefore get a fair trial,” he added.
“I have been advised by Counsel and verily believe same to be true that in the circumstance the learned judge should recuse himself from the suit and refer the suit to the Chief Justice for same to be transferred to another judge by the Chief Justice,” he concluded.
Chief State Attorney Evelyn Keelson insisted the application has no merit whatsoever and urged the court to dismiss same.
She argued that the court has on countless countless occasions ordered the state to make available various documents since the commencement of the trial.
According to her, the 10 days given Dr. Opuni by the court was enough and not contrary to any known law.
Furthermore, she indicated that Dr. Opuni was yet to open his defence even as at Wednesday, June 9 when oral arguments on the application was taking place.
In his ruling, Justice Honyenuga stated that a case of bias meriting his recusal has not been made. He, therefore, dismissed the application and added that it was made in bad faith.
The case was adjourned to June 18, 2021 for Dr. Opuni to open his defence.