Godfred Yeboah Dame
The Office of the Attorney General has shredded allegations of bias made by former Chief Executive Officer of Ghana Cocoa Board (COCOBOD), Dr. Stephen Opuni against Justice Clemence Jackson Honyenuga, a Supreme Court judge sitting as an additional high court judge in the ongoing trial of the ex-COCOBOD boss.
The Attorney General (AG), in an affidavit opposing an application filed by Dr. Opuni, asking Justice Honyenuga to step aside from his trial, stated categorically that the move by the ex-COCOBOD boss “is based on unfounded allegations and speculations,” and added that “it is only a ruse to avoid opening his defence as required by law and a further attempt to unduly delay this trial.”
The affidavit in opposition, signed by Stella Ohene Appiah, a Principal State Attorney, stated that the accused person failed to disclose any special circumstances to warrant the judge recusing himself from further hearing the case.
Dr. Opuni and private businessman, Seidu Agongo and the businessman’s Agricult Ghana Limited, are being tried by Justice Honyenuga at an Accra High Court where they have been charged for causing financial loss of over GH¢217 million to the state.
The court, at the end of the prosecution’s case, held that the prosecution had proved the essential ingredients in the charges levelled against the accused persons, thereby establishing a prima facie case, and ordered the accused to open their defence respectively.
The judge arrived at the prima facie conclusion after the accused persons had filed their respective submissions of no case and the court had dismissed them based on the evidence made available by the prosecution.
But Dr. Opuni has filed an application asking the judge to recuse himself on ground that it has become clear to him (Dr. Opuni) he will not be given adequate time and facilities to prepare his defence as stipulated under the 1992 Constitution due to what he claimed to be certain comments made by the judge after he had asked for more days to prepare for his defence.
Last Thursday, he argued that the court after dismissing his submission of no case on May 7, 2021, adjourned the matter to May 17 (10 days) for him to open his defence instead of the two weeks (14 days) requested by his lawyer to adequately prepare him (Dr. Opuni) to open his defence given the volume of documents that were tendered in evidence by the prosecution.
He also alleged bias on the part of judge on the grounds that the judge made final determination of fact in a ruling on his submission of no case, a determination which the accused said, can only be made at the end of the case and not after the prosecution had closed its case.
The prosecution has opposed the application which is seeking to get the judge to recuse himself, describing it as an attempt by the accused person to further delay the trial, which has been ongoing for close to four years.
On the allegation of not being given adequate time and facility to defend himself, the prosecution averred that the court “is mandated by the 1992 Constitution to expeditiously hear the case involving the applicant (Dr. Opuni), being a criminal trial, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with the trial judge stating that the case has to be expeditiously heard.”
“Contrary to the averments of the applicant, he has throughout the trial before this court been offered more than adequate time and facilities to defend himself,” prosecution insisted.
Issue of Bias
Another ground for Dr. Opuni’s application against the judge is the allegation of bias against Justice Honyenuga following his ruling in dismissing a submission of no case filed by the accused persons.
“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,” Dr. Opuni intimated.
The prosecution again opposed this instant allegation, arguing that Dr. Opuni “has not demonstrated in any way that his being called upon to open his defence by the learned trial judge constitutes a real likelihood of bias.”
According to the affidavit in opposition, the court in determining whether or not a prima facie case had been made by the prosecution against the accused person was required to determine whether the prosecution had established all the essential elements of the charges for which the accused persons were before the court.
“In rendering his ruling, there is nothing legally wrong with the trial judge stating that the prosecution has established the ingredients of the various offence charged, as that is exactly what is expected of the court to find.”
No Guilt Determination
The prosecution said that “nowhere in the ruling of the court did the trial judge make a determination of the guilt of the applicant (Dr. Opuni) and the trial judge was clear in his ruling that the applicant has an opportunity to open his defence and tell his side of the story.”
“It is trite that the fact that a trial court finds, after a submission of no case, that the prosecution has established the ingredients of an offence against an accused does not mean that the accused cannot by an explanation of his actions raise a reasonable doubt in the case of the prosecution,” the AG argued.
The prosecution added that the trial court in compliance with the law has offered Dr. Opuni the opportunity to explain his actions and raise reasonable doubt in the case of the prosecution and he can therefore, in no way complain of unfair treatment.
“The applicant’s application which is based on unfounded allegations and speculations is only a ruse to avoid opening his defence as required by law and a further attempt to unduly delay the trial,” the AG fired.
The AG added that the application is frivolous, unmeritorious and should therefore be dismissed as granting it “will unnecessarily delay the trial of the case and cause grave injustice.”
The application would be heard on June 9, 2021.
BY Gibril Abdul Razak