Clemence Honyenuga, a Supreme Court Justice with additional responsibility of the High Court, has questioned how Dr. Stephen Kwabena Opuni, who was suffering from Covid-19, was able to sign a document and its supporting affidavits, to petition the Court of Appeal on his earlier ruling on a matter pending before him (Judge).
Justice Honyenuga, while giving a ruling on a motion filed by the former Chief Executive (CE) of Ghana Cocoa Board (COCOBOD), Dr. Opuni, to stay the criminal court’s proceedings, was dumbfounded at how the latter was able to achieve the above.
According to him, Dr. Opuni, first accused (A1) in the cocoa offences trial, only produced to the court a laboratory test results of the University of Ghana Medical Centre (UGMC) without a medical report or excuse duty. His ruling, which he spent about 35 minutes to put together, but delivered in less than five minutes, was to the effect that the application to stay execution of proceedings lacked merit.
He said the court could not grant the embattled former Chief Executive’s request, because it would further delay the trial, which had been going on for almost four years. His Lordship added that the first accused and his counsel had had more than enough time to prepare their witnesses.
Justice Honyenuga further ruled that looking at the grounds of the appeal pending determination by the Court of Appeal, he doubted it might have any chance of success.
His Lordship further pointed out to Dr. Opuni that he had the power to order witnesses to testify in turns, adding: “This is tantamount to effective case management, and this is to avoid unnecessary and unreasonable delays.”
But, Counsel for Dr. Opuni, Samuel Codjoe, rebutted that the Commissioner of Oaths visited his client’s residence and the various Covid-19 protocols were observed for the application and attached affidavit to be signed.
Mr. Codjoe further informed the court that they had the medical report, which confirmed when Dr. Opuni tested positive and negative after diagnosis and treatment.
He further pointed out to the court that he was surprised at the posture of the prosecution, with regard to the application, since, in a different case they were doing together, involving the former Social Security and National Investment Trust (SSNIT) Director General, Ernest Thompson, the prosecution informed the court that its witness had been affected by Coronavirus and the case was adjourned for two weeks.
The Judge, in response, questioned why the Counsel did not inform him earlier that there were medical reports to that effect. A1’s appeal application was to challenge the decision of the court – that his witnesses should be called out of turn.
This was after the court had ordered on two different occasions that different witnesses should testify, while others took their turn in the box had not finished.
The first instance was when the Second Defence Witness (DW2), Samuel Tobi, in the course of testifying, fell sick and was admitted at the Accra Regional Hospital, Ridge, and the court ordered that a new witness should be called.
The second instance was on June 10, when the court hearing evidence of Ambassador Daniel Ohene Agyekum via video link and due to the circumstances surrounding this procedure, a long adjournment was given. The court, in order to fast-track the case, directed that a new witness should be called to fill up the two weeks adjournment gap.
The First Accused, unhappy with the development, ran to the Court of Appeal to have the decision reversed, therefore, calling on the lower court to stay proceedings. Mr. Codjoe argued that the court erred when it said they should call their witnesses out of turn, stressing that the prosecution did not have this condition imposed on it when it was conducting its case, because there were instances where the court adjourned to enable its witnesses to appear.
He further added that the decision of the court went against Dr. Opuni’s right to a fair trial, as it was important that a witness complete his evidence before another is called, and it was very possible that, based on the evidence of a witness in a box, they might not need to call a further witness.
According to him, if their plea was not granted, the first accused may suffer unrepairable hardship.
However, the first ground of motion that the accused person must not be tried in his absence due to a health challenge was rendered moot, because he had served the 14 days self-isolation protocol.
Stella Ohene Appiah, Principal State Attorney (PSA), responded to the application that when the court ordered for DW3 to be called while DW2 reported ill, and further ordered for the applicant to call another witness while DW4 was yet to complete his evidence via video link, “my lord it is well within the jurisdiction of this court.”
She said Justice Honyenuga acted within the powers of this land, and the applicant had already indicated to this court the number of witnesses he intended calling, and had subpoenas issued out to some of these witnesses.
“It is, therefore, not the case that the applicant is now going round looking for his witnesses, and therefore, the court order for him to call a witness out of turn is such a grave order that would jeopardise his defence.
“My lord, in that case this interlocutory appeal on which this application is premised in our humble is doomed to fail,” she said.
The Principal State Attorney submitted to the court that the applicant should be refused and the trial continued since the court’s order doesn’t in anyway err in law and that the court acted within its proper jurisdiction to effectively control the trial as mandated by law.
Dr. Opuni is facing some 27 criminal charges including Procurement breaches with businessman Seidu Agongo and his company, Agricult Ghana Limited. The court has adjourned hearing to this Friday for the prosecution to cross examine DW4, Ambassador Ohene Agyekum.