Supreme Court prohibits Justice Honyenuga from hearing Opuni's case

BY: Justice Agbenorsi

The Supreme Court has by a majority decision prohibited the judge handling the trial of a former Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Ghana Cocoa Board (COCOBOD), Dr Stephen Kwabena Opuni, from presiding over the case.

A five-member panel of the apex court presided over by Justice Jones Dotse in a 3-2 majority decision also quashed a ruling of the trial judge, Justice Clemence Jackson Honyenuga, a Justice of the Supreme Court, with additional responsibility as a High Court judge in the case.

Other members of the panel were Justices Gabriel Pwamang, Agnes Dordzie, Avril Lovelace -Johnson, and Issifu Omoro Tanko Amadu.

The reasons for the court’s decision, according to the panel will be available at the court registry by Friday, July 30 this year.

Accused persons

Dr Opuni, and Seidu Agongo, CEO of Agricult Ghana Limited, an agrochemicals company, are on trial on accusation of causing financial loss of more than GH¢271 million to the state.

Agongo is accused of using fraudulent means to sell substandard fertiliser to the COCOBOD for onward distribution to cocoa farmers, while Dr Opuni is accused of facilitating the act by allowing Agongo’s products not to be tested and certified as required by law.

The two have denied any wrongdoing and have pleaded not guilty to all the charges.

Opuni’s case

Dr Opuni’s application at the Supreme Court is his fourth attempt to have Justice Honyenuga, taken off his trial.

He invoked the supervisory jurisdiction of the apex court, seeking an order of certiorari to quash Justice Honyenuga’s ruling dismissing his submission of no case.

He has also sought an order of prohibition to have Justice Honyenuga removed from the case, with an accusation that the judge had been biased towards him.

Lead counsel for Dr Opuni, Mr Samuel Codjoe, who moved the application in court previously, argued that Justice Honyenuga violated the Evidence Act, N.R.C.D 323 (1975) when he rejected an exhibit during the ruling on the submission of no case.

It was his contention that per Section 8 of the Evidence Act before the judge could reject the exhibit, there was supposed to have been an objection from the prosecution.

A-G’s response

Mr Tuah -Yeboah in his response also urged the court to dismiss the application, arguing that Dr Opuni had failed to meet the requirement for the invocation of the court’s supervisory jurisdiction.

The Deputy A-G argued that the trial judge did not violate any law when he rejected an ‘illegal evidence’ and that before the judge could decide on whether or not a prima facie case had been made against the accused persons, he must evaluate the evidence on record.

Mr Tuah-Yeboah further argued that even if the trial judge erred in rejecting the exhibit, the remedy available was an appeal at the Court of Appeal and not a judicial review application at the Supreme Court.
With regard to the allegation of bias, the deputy A-G said all that the judge did was to establish whether a prima facie case had been made against the accused persons.

That, he said, did not mean Justice Honyenuga had determined the guilt of the accused persons, adding that the accused persons would have their day in court when they opened their defence.

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