Justice Honyenuga has 5 months to finish Opuni-Agongo trial; can he?

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Justice Clemence Jackson Honyenuga has given the strongest indication yet that he will continue to sit on the Opuni and Agongo trial after the legal vacation, but his ability to dispose of the case by February ending is in serious doubt.

Technically, Justice Clemence Honyenuga retired as a Supreme Court judge on September 4, 2022 when he attained the compulsory retirement age of 70 for superior court judges.

However, the 1992 constitution of Ghana, Article 145 (4) gives him six (6) months to wind up.

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The article stipulates, “Notwithstanding that he has attained the age at which he is required by this article to vacate his office, a person holding office as a Justice of a Superior Court or Chairman of a Regional Tribunal may continue in office for a period not exceeding six months after attaining that 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.”

CASE RESUMES

Hearing of the case, which has largely been described as a “political persecution”, resumes on October 3, 2022 at the High Court amidst growing calld for the replacement of the retired trial judge.

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The former COCOBOD Chief Executive, Dr. Stephen Opuni and businessman Seidu Agongo as well as Agricult Ghana Limited, have been facing 27 charges, including willfully causing financial loss to the state and contravention of the Public Procurement Act in the purchase of Lithovit liquid fertiliser between 2014 and 2016.

They have pleaded not guilty to the charges and are on a GH¢300,000.00 self-recognizance bail each.

The trial actually started in March 2018 after the state pressed the 27 charges against the accused persons, signed by Chief State Attorney Evelyn Keelson on behalf of the then Attorney General Madam Gloria Akuffo. This was after the uncle of the Chief State Attorney, the then Senior Minister Yaw Osafo Marfo had ordered the CID of the Ghana police to take over the case from the Economic and Organised Crime Office (EOCO).

After three years, the state closed its case after it had called seven witnesses. The accused persons then filed for submission of no case in April 2021, but was dismissed and ordered to open their defence.

On December 2, 2021, Dr. Opuni, opened his defence with a former Director of Finance at COCOBOD, Mr. Charles Tetteh Dodoo as the first defence witness.

RULES CHANGED

Whilst the witness keeps making more and more interesting revelations, Justice Honyenuga, decided to change the rules of the trial.

The judge said he will no longer entertain oral evidence, as he did with the defence witnesses, and therefore ordered Dr. Opuni to file his statement as well as those for the 8 remaining witnesses.

Same directive was directed at Seidu Agongo and Agricult Ghana Ltd with about 34 witnesses lining up.

Dr. Opuni who has consistently accused the judge of bias prayed to the Supreme Court to intervene but was ignored.

Dr. Opuni applied for a review which he argued that the court erred, which also constituted a grave miscarriage of justice when it failed to consider the provisions under Article 19 (2) (g) of the 1992 Constitution which requires “that I be given the same facilities as was given to the Prosecution. By this provision, this court committed an error when it did not quash the orders made by the trial judge concerning the trial including ordering that my witnesses file witness statements, save my first witness who is already in the box. These orders inhibit me in properly and adequately defending myself and which orders are totally different from the mode of presentation of the case by all the Prosecution witnesses.”

He lost the appeal too.

Seidu Agongo’s team was also unsuccessful in their quest to get the high court’s directive quashed.

Though subpoenaed witnesses are given limited time to give evidence, witnesses that filed their statements would have a day for the evidence in chief and two days for cross examination by the other party as well as two days for the prosecution.

LIMITED TIME

During the last sitting on July 28, Justice Honyenuga announced his return to the case.

“In pursuance to Article 144 (11) of the constitution, 1992, the Chief Justice has granted me a limited time to conclude this case. In the circumstances, this court shall in addition [to Monday, Wednesday and Thursday] sits on Tuesdays at 11 am for early disposal of this four year old case. In view of the pending vacation the case is adjourned to October 3, 2022 at 10:am for continuation,” Justice Honyenuga relished a comeback.

The announcement has left many wondering if the court is willing to dispense justice as the trial judge with the support of the Chief Justice is setting a time line to finish a criminal case.

5 MONTHS

Justice Honyenuga has already exhausted one month, and has only 5 months to completely wash his hands off the case as the constitution demands.

Now, the seventh defence witness Mr Peter Okyere Boateng, a former Deputy Executive Director of Cocoa Health and Extension Division (CHED) of COCOBOD is expected to mount the witness box for his cross-examination to continue in October.

This means Dr. Opuni has two more witnesses to call in addition to his personal evidence.

Businessman Seidu Agongo would then open his defence with the over 34 witnesses in waiting.

But the critical question begging for answer is whether Justice Clemence Honyenuga would be able to hear the testimonies of all these witnesses by the end of February 2023 when his retirement extension expires?

This is perhaps one of the many reasons why people are calling on the Chief Justice to get a new competent judge to take over the protracted case.

SAM GEORGE & KWAKU AZAR’S TAKE

Reacting to Justice Honyenuga’s insistence to stay on the case, the Members of Parliament of Ningo Prampram Mr. Sam Nartey George, on Accra-based Metro TV’s Good Morning Ghana programme wondered: “And, so, you begin to ask yourself: ‘What is the interest of this particular judge in this case?’ Even in his own announcement, [he] talks about wanting to dispense of the case quickly.

“Why? Is justice about speed or about fairness and equity?

“And this is my question to the revered Chief Justice: what is his interest in that case and what is his interest in maintaining Honyenuga, JSC, as the judge presiding on this matter?”

Meanwhile, Prof. Stephen Kwaku Asare, also called Kwaku Azar in a Facebook post posited that Justice Honyenuga “should be disqualified from continuing with the case”.

Wading into his utterances in court, making disparaging remarks at the person of Dr. Opuni in an open court, the outspoken professor proffered:

“If I am the defendant, these words will put me in fear that I will not receive a fair and impartial trial.

“If I am the judge, I will question whether I can be fair and impartial about a defendant that I believe has told malicious lies about me.”

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