A second attempt by lawyers for former Ghana Cocoa Board (COCOBOD) CEO, Dr Stephen Opuni, to have the judge hearing a criminal case against him, to recuse himself, has failed.
Supreme Court Judge Clemence Honyenuga who is hearing the case as an additional High Court judge, has been accused of bias.
The lawyers say Justice Honyenuga had made comments in open court and in his ruling on a submission of no case application that leaves them in no doubt that their client will not get a fair hearing.
Dr Opuni is accused of causing a 217 million dollar financial loss to the state and has been standing trial since 2017.
The first of such applications was filed in March 2020, on grounds that the trial judge had openly campaigned for President Akufo-Addo.
The judge is reported to have said at a traditional ceremony in a community, where he (judge) is a Paramount Chief, that the current President had done well with the Free Senior High School programme, which has bridged the education gap between the rich and the poor in the country.
The court dismissed the application after the judge had held that he was taken aback by the decision of Dr. Opuni, to politicise the trial.
Dr Opuni subsequently went to the Supreme Court to plead for the removal of Justice Honyenuga from his case, but a five-member panel presided over by Chief Justice Kwasi Anin-Yeboah and assisted by Justices Jones Dotse, Sule Gbadegbe, Nene Amegatcher and Gertrude Torkornoo, dismissed the application for lacking merit and not supported by any fact.
Lawyers for Dr. Opuni renewed their attempt to get Justice Honyenuga off the case after the judge held that the prosecution has been able to establish prima facie case against Dr. Opuni, businessman Seidu Agongo and his Agricult Ghana Limited.
The court then ordered the accused persons to open their defence respectively after dismissing their submissions of no case.
Dr. Opuni, in an application filed by his lawyer, Samuel Codjoe, is now alleging bias on the part of the trial judge, stating that Dr. Opuni may not be given adequate time to defend himself before the court and would not get a fair trial.
He argued that the court, after dismissing his submission of no case on May 7, 2021, adjourned the matter to May 17 (10 days) for him to open his defence instead of the two weeks (14 days) requested by his lawyer to adequately prepare him (Dr. Opuni) to open his defence, given the volume of documents that were tendered by the prosecution.
He said the judge after dismissing the application for submission of no case “stated in open court that he has to complete the case quickly to enable him concentrate on his duties at the Supreme Court as the case had been pending for the past 3 (three) years thereby affecting his work in the Supreme Court.
Another ground for his application against the judge is the allegation of bias against Justice Honyenuga following his ruling in dismissing a submission of no case filed by the accused persons.
“I state further that in the ruling dismissing my application for a submission of no case, the learned judge made final determination of fact which determination can only be made at the final determination of the case and not after the prosecution has closed its case. This shows real likelihood of bias by the learned judge,” he said.
He added that “the learned judge having made this final determination of fact when I have not yet opened my defence has shown that I would not have a fair trial in that the learned judge has already determined the case against me and I cannot therefore get a fair trial.”
“I have been advised by Counsel and verily believe same to be true that in the circumstance the learned judge should recuse himself from the suit and refer the suit to the Chief Justice for same to be transferred to another judge by the Chief Justice,” he concluded.
Chief State Attorney Evelyn Keelson urged the court to dismiss the application. She insisted it has no merit whatsoever.
She argued that since the trial commenced, the court has on countless occasions ordered the state to make available various documents.
She also said the 10 days given Dr. Opuni by the court was enough and not contrary to any known law.
She further indicated that even as at Wednesday, June 9 when oral arguments on the application was taking place, Dr. Opuni was yet to open his defence.
This she explained meant, it had been 24 days since the court ordered that he opens his defence.
Justice Honyenuga in his ruling stated that a case of bias meriting his refusal has not been made. He, therefore, dismissed the application adding that the application was made in bad faith.
He adjourned the case to June 18, for Dr Opuni to open his defence.
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