Opuni’s trial: Justice Honyenuga reinstated

BY: Emmanuel Ebo Hawkson
Justice Clemence Honyenuga
Justice Clemence Honyenuga

The Supreme Court has reinstated Justice Clemence Honyenuga as the judge to preside over the criminal trial of former COCOBOD Chief Executive, Dr Stephen Kwabena Opuni, who has been accused of causing financial loss to the state.

A seven-member review panel in a 4-3 majority decision on Tuesday (October 26, 2021) overturned an earlier decision by the court prohibiting Justice Honyenuga from presiding over the case.

That was after the court upheld a review application by the Attorney-General (A-G), Mr Godfred Yeboah Dame.

RelatedOpuni fails to remove Justice Dotse from review case

How the judges decided

Justices Dotse and Avril Lovelace Johnson, who had dissented in the previous judgement, were joined by Justices Prof. Nii Ashie Kotey and Gertrude Torkornoo to become the majority in the review case, while Justices Gabriel Pwamang, Agnes Dordzie and Issifu Omoro Amadu Tanko, who had prohibited Justice Honyenuga in the previous ruling, dissented in the review decision.

The apex court did not give the reasons for its ruling, saying that the reasons would be available at the court’s registry by Friday, October 29.

The decision by the court means that Dr Opuni’s trial, which had been on hold for more than four months, was now back on track, with the High Court set to issue a new trial date.

Recusal

The review hearing was not without drama, as the court had to first decide whether or not Justice Dotse would be part of the panel of judges.

Dr Opuni had filed an application on Monday, October 25, seeking the recusal of Justice Dotse, with a case that the judge had held a meeting with the A-G on October 15.

The application was based on certain allegations made by a social commentator, Kelvin Taylor.

Moving the application, the lawyer for Dr Opuni, Mr Samuel Cudjoe, had submitted that the meeting between Justice Dotse and the A-G had led to loss of confidence in the judicial system and, therefore, Justice Dotse should recuse himself.

Mr Cudjoe also argued that the A-G should not be allowed to make a submission in his client’s application seeking the recusal of Justice Dotse, since he (A-G) was the one who had the meeting with Justice Dotse.

The five-member panel, presided over by Justice Pwamang, decided that in order to expedite the case, Mr Dame should not make a submission, but rather his deputy, Mr Alfred Tuah-Yeboah, should respond to the application.

In his submission, Mr Tuah-Yeboah described the application for Justice Dotse to recuse himself as unmeritorious and one that smacked of bad faith.

According to him, Mr Dame had met Justice Dotse in his official capacity as the A-G at a time when Justice Dotse was the acting Chief Justice, and that the two had discussed issues concerning the Ghana School of Law, which had nothing to do with Dr Opuni’s trial.

He said the application was to muddy the waters, adding that “it is unprofessional and not proper”.

The panel agreed with the Deputy A-G and dismissed the application for Justice Dotse to recuse himself on the basis that Dr Opuni did not provide any reasonable ground.

Background

On July 28, 2021, the Supreme Court held that in dismissing a submission of no case filed by Dr Opuni, Justice Honyenuga made certain pronouncements which could be interpreted that he (judge) had already found the accused persons guilty, even before they opened their defence.

Such an act, the court held, gave rise to the likelihood of bias and accordingly prohibited Justice Honyenuga from presiding over the case.

The decision followed a judicial review application by Dr Opuni

It was that decision which the A-G challenged through a review application.

Not guilty

Dr Opuni is standing trial with Seidu Agongo, the CEO of Agricult Ghana Limited, an agrochemicals company.

Agongo has been 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 not allowing Agongo’s products to be tested and certified, as required by law.

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

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