Opuni trial: Court again dismisses motion against trial judge

Dr. Stephen Opuni (right) at the court.

An Accra High Court hearing the trial of Dr Stephen Opuni, the former CEO of COCOBOD, and two others, has again dismissed a motion seeking the Trial Judge, Justice Clemence Honyenuga, to recuse himself from continuing with the matter.

The Trial Judge, after hearing the parties, said it was his candid opinion that the application was brought in bad faith.

The motion was seeking that Justice Honyenuga, who is a Court of Appeal Judge, sitting with additional responsibility as a High Court Judge, stop the trial and refer the matter to the Chief Justice for reassignment.

Mr Samuel Cudjoe, Counsel for Dr Opuni, said it was a motion on notice for the trial judge to recuse himself from further hearing of the matter on the grounds of breach of Article 19 2E and G of the Constitution and also under the inherent jurisdiction of the Court.

Giving the basis for their application he said:  “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.”

The Counsel said based on that when their application for a 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.

Mr Cudjoe said they, therefore, requested for adequate time that the Court gave 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 a real likelihood of bias.

He asked the trial judge to refer the suit to the Chief Justice, amend same for it to be “re-assigned 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 concentrate on his duties at the Supreme Court as the case had been pending for the past three years, thereby affecting his work at the Supreme Court.

Mr Cudjoe said based on the above, it had become clear  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 mounts the box,” he added.

Counsel said it showed them that their guilt had already been determined even before they opened their defence and feared they would not get a fair trial, therefore, “we are praying that you recuse yourself.”

Mrs Evelyn Keelson, the Chief State Attorney, said they were opposed to the application and that the applicant had not disclosed any circumstances warranting the application calling on the Judge to recuse himself.

She said Article 19(1) of the Constitution mandated the Court to conduct a criminal trial expeditiously and that was actually the first principle of fair trial hence there was nothing wrong when a trial judge wanted to conduct a case expeditiously.

Mrs Keelson said it was at the instance of the applicant that the Court adjourned the case to May 17, 2021 to enable him open his defence adding: “It is our submission that between the May 17, 2021 and now was 24 days.”

“We, therefore, state that there is no basis at all that the applicant has not been given adequate time to put up his defence,” she said.

She said as for facilities “I will not bore this court because throughout this trial the Court has ordered the prosecution on many occasions to serve the applicant with all manner of documents including documents that we, as prosecution, had not even seen and had to look for.”

She said the Court’s decision for the applicant to open his defence to determine whether a prima facie case had been established against an accused person was standard practice.

The prosecution said the application, as they had always stated, was a calculated attempt to further delay the trial and called on the Court to dismiss it.

Dr Opuni and Mr Agongo are facing 27 charges, including defrauding by false pretences, wilfully causing financial loss to the State, money laundering, and corruption by public officer in 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.

The trial was adjourned to June 18, 2021 for Dr Opuni to open his defence.

Source: GNA

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