Honyenuga refers Opuni’s case to Chief Justice
The judge hearing the trial involving Dr Stephen Opuni, a former Chief Executive Officer of COCOBOD, and two others, has asked the High Court registrar to forward the case docket to the Chief Justice to assign a new judge.
In a ruling on Wednesday, Justice Clemence Jackson Honyenuga, a Justice of the Supreme Court sitting as an additional High court judge, upheld the Attorney-General’s submission which advised him to refer the case to the Chief Justice for the appointment of a new judge.
“I must state that it is refreshing that the Attorney-General who initiated the Criminal proceedings against the accused persons has submitted through the Deputy Attorney-General that this case be referred to the Chief Justice due to the limited time at my disposal.
“Indeed, due to the limited time accorded me by the Chief Justice to continue to hear this case, it is crystally clear that it is impossible for me to conclude and determine this case with DW7 in the box. In the circumstances, I will uphold the submission of the Deputy Attorney-General and hereby grant the application under Section 105 of the Court's Act 1993 Act 459 as amended.
“It is hereby ordered that the pendency of this case be reported to the Chief Justice for his directions. Accordingly, the Registrar of this court is to carry out this order forthwith,” Justice Honyenuga said in his ruling on Wednesday.
The Attorney-General (A-G) had on Thursday, February 23, this year, prayed Justice Honyenuga to refer the matter to the Chief Justice for a new judge to be appointed.
Justice Honyenuga had been presiding over the trial since March 2018.
He reached the mandatory retirement age of 70 in September 2022.
However, in accordance with Article 145 (4) of the 1992 Constitution, the Chief Justice gave Justice Honyenuga a six-month extension to enable him to conclude all the cases he was handling, including the trial of the former COCOBOD boss.
When the case was called yesterday, a Deputy A-G, Alfred Tuah-Yeboah, said the six-month extension granted to Justice Honyenuga by the Chief Justice would be due in March this year.
According to the Deputy A-G, it would be impossible for the trial to be concluded with the limited time left, especially as the second accused, Seidu Agongo, was yet to open his defence.
“Considering the time left, it is practically impossible for this matter to be concluded within that time. In the circumstance, we respectfully pray that my Lord refers this matter to the Chief Justice for this court to be reconstituted. This is being made in the interest of justice and fairness,” the Deputy A-G said.
Article 145 (4) of the 1992 Constitution stipulates that notwithstanding the fact that a Justice of the Superior Court has attained the retirement age, “that person may continue in office for a period not exceeding six months after attaining the age, as may be necessary to enable him to deliver judgment or do any other thing in relation to proceedings that were commenced before him previous to his attaining that age”.
The six-month extension granted to Justice Honyenuga by the Chief Justice has generated controversy in the trial.
Dr Opuni challenged the decision at the High Court claiming that the Chief Justice was not clothed with the power to give a Justice of the Superior Court an extension after retirement.
Lawyers for Dr Opuni argued that since it was the President who appoints Justices of the Superior Court, it was only the President, and not the Chief Justice, who could grant such extensions to a retired Justice.
The case was dismissed by the High Court.
Dr Opuni challenged the decision of the High Court at the Supreme Court, which was also dismissed.
Dr Opuni is standing trial with Seidu Agongo, the CEO of Agricult Ghana Limited, an agrochemical company.
State prosecutors have accused the two of causing financial loss of more than GH¢271 million to the state in a series of lithovit foliar fertiliser transactions.
It is the case of the prosecution that the fertiliser was substandard, and has accused Agongo of allegedly using fraudulent means to sell the fertiliser to COCOBOD for onward distribution to cocoa farmers.